The hardworking vignerons of Languedoc-Roussillon have seen some extremes in recent years. The industry was holding its breath and crossing its fingers, hoping that the grape harvest of 2013 would put them back on an upward trend.
The quantities harvested in 2012 were historically low and conditions leading up to this year's vendange didn't bode well. It has been a year, and don't forget we are talking about the full 12 months from October 2012 to September 2013, of unusual weather. It has been raining when it shouldn't and not rained when it should; too hot when it should be cool and cool when it should be warmer. This has all had an effect on the growing grapes which have taken longer than usual to ripen delaying the vendange by 2-3 weeks. Languedoc and Provence haven't been so badly hit but other regions in France have seen their vineyards literally devastated by hail storms this summer.
The late harvest in itself doesn't pose any real problems for the winegrowers as such, what keeps them awake at night is if, for a second consecutive year, the quantities are low again. Small crops don't mean a bad vintage, on the contrary, small grapes are more concentrated, but low yields mean less volume which lead to less income and profit for the vignerons.
Cool and wet weather during the spring meant that there were fewer berries per bunch. Mildew, insects, pests and diseases needed to be treated, the cost of which is quite significant and eats into the vigneron's profit.
This slow start to the growing season was balanced out by high temperatures in July which allowed the vineyards to catch up a little.
Unseasonal heavy rainfall swelled the grapes but this in turn dilutes the sugar content (this is the bit that turns to alcohol during vinification).
The good news is the harvest, despite the lateness, was more abundant this year than in 2012 thanks to the good weather during September which helped the grapes mature. Yields are up by about 11% on last year's crop and the sugar content is satisfactory.
So, when you are sipping your 2013 vintage, remember the roller coaster ride the poor vignerons had to go through to get that bottle on your table!