The wine regions of the world are all set for a corker of a year. In-keeping with the traditional Bordeaux ‘Rule of Five’ – that every vintage ending in five or zero since 1985 has been exceptional – 2020 promises to be another excellent year for wine, with favourable weather conditions and an abundant crop. The problem is, there’s no one to drink it.
Decanter spoke to Jean Frédéric Hugel at the centuries-old producer in Alsace – “2020 is exceptional in the way that we are seeing an expected very high crop in a high quality vintage, with sales at an all-time low because of Covid and reduced appellation production yields”, Hugel explains.
Due largely to the economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns, the success of this year’s vintage is happening against a backdrop of a huge loss in sales and millions of litres of existing stocks in France, Spain and Italy.
Several measures have been proposed to help make space for the new wines, including government incentives to curb production and efforts to find more storage space.
A total of €10m will be given to producers in Spain to discard grapes – a country where the 2020 harvest was set to be 14% larger than 2019. And over in Italy, despite sales of Chianti Classico rebounding after lockdown, the area’s wine Consorzio has been encouraging producers to share cellar space if existing stocks are high.
‘We put wineries that had available space in the cellar in touch with those who would need it,’ said Carlotta Gori, director of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico.
There’s even been talk of the European winemaking countries getting together and spending hundreds of millions of euros distilling existing stocks into industrial alcohol to make hand sanitiser.
Red, white or green?
While the connoisseurs of the wine world may shudder at the very thought of wine going to waste, they will be pleased to hear that not every region has opted for the distillation funding scheme.
Another option facing winemakers like Hugel is to ‘green harvest’. Green harvesting – a form of crop thinning in the vineyards – is not unusual in the fine wine world, and can produce an even better quality vintage, allowing flavours to concentrate in the remaining grapes.
“The obvious solution for quality, production, economic and legal reasons was for us [to] green harvest,” Hugel said. The winery “sacrificed a large proportion of our grapes in the most prestigious terroirs”, and “more humble terroirs” were awaiting the same fate.
He added – “We are doing all we can to make it more than just the Covid year, but a great vintage worth drinking [for] decades. Nature has rather helped us on that side, so we have our fate in our hands, still.”
Meanwhile vineyards across Europe are racing to recruit and prepare harvesting teams for what looks set to be an early and abundant harvest.
Ornellaia, which started harvesting Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier on 13 August, said, “2020 is a year we are unlikely to forget but, in the vineyards of Bolgheri at least, conditions so far this year give hope for an outstanding vintage.”