Vacqueyras’ Promising 2013s and Ready to Drink 2012s
The 2013 Growing Season
Broadly speaking, the 2013 growing season in Vacqueyras
mirrored conditions in neighboring Gigondas, which meant a cold start to the
growing season, with a meager flowering not occurring until the middle of June.
The fruit ripened very slowly through a cool and mostly dry summer, leading to an extremely late harvest featuring
much less fruit than normal. Picking occurred in cool weather and thus the
harvest proceeded at a leisurely pace, with ample time for picking
carefully—and for eliminating sub-par fruit when it arrived at the winery.
While that was bad news for quantity, it turned out to be good news for quality, as the grapes - assuming they were allowed to hang on the vine long enough - could
be picked at optimal ripeness and with healthy natural acidity.
One interesting factor in the 2013 equation in Vacqueyras is
that all varieties achieved ripeness at almost the same time. Thus many estates
were able to carry out their harvests in a long, continuous sweep—as opposed to
the normal start-stop-start process required when the early-maturing Grenache
is picked well before the other varieties ripen.
An old shed in the vineyards, Vacqueyras, Vaucluse
Given the fact that producers in Vacqueyras typically rely
more heavily on the “darker” Syrah and Mourvèdre varieties than their
colleagues down the road in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the 2013s here are more classic
in the context of their appellation. They are more savory and less fruit-driven
than most Châteauneufs, with higher acidity and somewhat firmer structure. The
vineyards in Vacqueyras are planted at relatively high altitude, and sugar
levels in the grapes rarely reach the heady levels of Châteauneuf or even most
Gigondas. The wines of Vacqueyras are usually a bit more rigid than those of
their neighbors, and that’s especially the case in a cool year like ‘13. That
said, since the fruit here doesn’t usually experience the skin-toughening
effect of baking sun, the tannins in Vacqueyras, while definitely present, are
seldom forbidding. The wines rarely require extended cellaring for those
tannins to soften and integrate. While a top-notch Vacqueyras will definitely
reward patience, it usually does not have to be stashed away for a decade before showing its
The village of Vacqueyras framed by the Dentelles de Montmirail
The 2012s in the Market
As for the 2012s, which are now steadily flowing into the
market, I find the majority of the wines quite perfumed and fruit-forward,
with easygoing tannins that will allow them to be enjoyed soon after release.
It was a dry vintage, with about 25% less rainfall than normal, but the
preceding winter was exceptionally rainy, so clay-rich sites in particular had good
water reserves to see them through the dry growing season. The bad news,
though, is that a bitterly cold and dry winter (especially the month of
February) that followed the rainy late fall caused significant damage to the
vines, with some vineyards realizing up to a 50% crop loss.
But the summer was then hot and dry, which kept vine diseases at bay and allowed healthy, ripe fruit to be picked starting around
the third week of September. Some locals compare 2012 to 2007 but I don’t see
that, as alcohol levels are almost universally lower in ’12 and the fruit
profile leans toward reds rather than black. If I had to compare 2012 to another
recent vintage, I’d probably say 2009, another year that gave approachable,
fruity wines that were wonderfully tasty from the get-go—and that are still
drinking great, by the way.
Photo credits: Véronique Pagnier
-- Josh Raynolds