An administrative decision, the moment when the grapes are perfectly ripe and the opinion of the wine grower all come together when deciding when "Day 1" of the grape-harvest will be across the 17 wine-growing areas of France. From the end of August, the southern vineyards (Corsica, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence) start the ball rolling.
This signals the start of 15 days of hard work, spread out over 3 intense months of grape harvesting in all 4 corners of the country. As a general rule, the grape-harvest starts earlier in the south than in the north. (*)
Declaring the Banns
The ritual begins, first of all, with the administrative publication of the Banns of the grape-harvest, which is the order from the prefecture that authorises the harvest to begin: these dates generally correspondent to 100 days after the vine comes into flower.
In fact, Mother Nature is really the one who decides this date.
Are the grapes ripe enough? Or, to put it another way, is there an optimal level of sugars that will be turned into alcohol?
If there is, the acidity level has to be gauged: the synthesis, harmony and balance of the grape’s “grume” will finally tell the wine grower when the first act of the harvest will begin. He is the conductor of this orchestra of flavours that will define his wine.
An early start in the south
The exposure of the hillsides and the intensity of the sun also influence the grape’s degree of ripeness, just as the very nature of the 351 French grape varieties also plays a part in deciding the date when the grape-harvest is destined to take place.
Certain wine growing areas, such as Gewurztraminer or Riesling in Alsace,choose to have a late harvest, often around mid-October. This results in a more mature grape, which is therefore sweeter. It also leads to straw-coloured wines with flavours of honey, pear and candied fruits.
The wine of the south west (Jurançon) also lends itself to a late harvest. The grapes give up their sweet nectar that perfectly accompanies the dishes of the Béarn region, such as confit de canard or foie gras.
(VERY) Late harvests: Ice Wine
And then, there is Ice Wine, harvested from December to January. The Frozen grape releases its flakes of ice upon pressing.
The result of this is a wine with high sugar content, ideal for accompanying deserts and other sweet dishes. Very popular in Canada – where it has become a speciality – Ice Wine can be found in Alsace, the only region where it can be produced in France.
* Calender of Grape-Harvests by region:
- End August :Corsica, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence
- Early September : Beaujolais, Southern Rhône Valley
- Mid-September : Northern Rhône Valley, Bordelais, Burgundy, Bugey et Savoie, Jura, Centre, South-West, Val-de-Loire
- End September : Alsace, Champagne
- Early October : Charentes, Cognac, Lorraine
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