Harvest Report 2021

A little bit overdue..

Harvest & Season Note 2021
Frost, drought and cool weather is not the summary of a perfect growing season, then throw in a few wildfires and other natural surprises and this completes a challenging year. The latter were not at Unang but close enough to be atmospheric. And yet, the resulting wines are full of promise, I shall try to explain how.

Frost was the big story, it hit in early April with all major wine regions in France, and Spain and Italy impacted too. It is extremely rare to have such a widespread weather event. As a result, Europe was forecast to have its smallest grape harvest since the war (for the second time in the past 5 years).

The night of the frost there was a large fire (c.100 acres) higher up the Nesque Valley, I wonder if the smoke from this gave us any protection. Certainly, plenty of fusty, old bales were burnt that night to try and keep the frost at bay but the cold (-5°/-6°C) was too marked for that to have much impact. It was pruning late is what saved us.

We had a cool spring and a dry but not hot summer – with temperatures in the high 20s rather than mid-30s. Actually; rather nice for northern Europeans. Typically, when we do get really hot weather the vines, the Syrah in particular, just shut down to conserve their water resources and don’t ripen, so this year offered them an uninterrupted run.

The six months before harvest (March to August inclusive) gave us 218mm of rain. Following a dry-ish winter. In September and October we had 190mm. At Lunel, by Nimes, they had 240mm of rain in three hours on September 15th, those are crazy stats even as the whole region was buffeted by storms, including hail, that week. This was one of three storm systems to pass through the southern Rhone during mid-September to early October. The unlucky domaines had +450mm of rainfall in this period. These ever more extreme weather events make the farmer’s life trickier.

At Unang, we had our only proper storm in early October (bringing 90mm of rain), followed by the Mistral (the strong, cold, dry wind from the north) which dried everything out, and then three fine weeks of beautiful autumnal weather. Prior to the storm we took excess leaves off the vines so that the fruit was well aired to help it dry out and avoid rot setting in. The nights went down to 4°C which brought on any ripening still required. This makes me feel the year favoured those in cooler spots who did not rush to bring in the crop. We finished picking on 14th October, so a little later than usual.

Our figs were three weeks late (early September at Unang), the latest cherries were picked in the second half of July rather than the end of June (second half of May at Unang), with much local comment that the growing season was returning to the norms of the 1980s. Many producers lacked both fruits due to the frost – a good case can be made for the old-style farming practices in the region where a broad selection of crops were produced on each farm rather than the current specialization and perceived efficiency of one main crop. Eggs and baskets come to mind…

I believe that we are well placed in our cooler site generally, and this year is no different. We normally harvest well into October, and so in later years will be pushed to the second or third week in the month. It is difficult to be much later than this as nature sends out all its signals that this is the end of the season, and night temperatures often drop towards zero. This is giving the vines a clear message that the growing season is coming to an end and to finish ripening. If you are normally picking in early September, and in a late year pick two-weeks later, the vines are still not getting the same strength of signal from nature that it’s time to wrap things up.

The impact of all of this on the wines seems to be lower yields (we are about 25% down, with many domaines 50% down), lower alcohol levels and slightly higher acidity. The levels of concentration also seem a touch up on last year. So, at this early stage, we are feeling pretty upbeat. The last of the sugars have now turned to alcohol, and the first of the secondary (malo-lactic) fermentations are under way, so the wines are progressing nicely.

We have started some work on our carbon footprint (in hand with AOC Ventoux who are impressively putting climate at the centre of their activities) and there is much more to be done. The initial results have thrown up surprises, such as the production of our glass bottles accounting for 30% of our total energy consumption and 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions (rising to almost 50% when all packaging is considered).

We are fortunate to have 50 hectares of forest surrounding the vineyard which offsets much of our footprint (and may make us carbon neutral), but this first appraisal has identified where to focus on reducing that footprint, such as letting more grass grow between the rows of vines. More to come on this.

One nearby producer extended the list of challenges this year by reporting that he turned up to pick his grapes – old vine Carignan – to find that someone had already picked them. Such stolen grapes are (rare, and) perhaps a sign of widespread low yields, and so limited supply in 2021.

Wolf update – we had two sheep taken by wolves on the estate, both within 100m of the chateau, during the winter. Any sheep that gets separated from the herd, and the protection of the shepherd and his ever-bigger dogs, is living dangerously. Irritatingly, a heron ate the fish in our pond – I had never seen one here before, so the biodiversity situation remains dynamic.
JK 10.11.2021





  1. Terje Totland says

    Thank you so much for updating on the situation, challenges you face and overcome. The omicron situation has ( again) put us all in an isolsted situation in Norway and the distance to your Chateau is not easy to overcome theese days. But, still, I hope that there will come possibilities to get hold of your fantastic wine in 2022.
    I wish you a merry Christmas and hope to be able to visit in 2022, hopefully a happy new year😊👍🥂

    • Dear Terje thank you for kind wishes and I join you in wishing for a return to a more normal world in 2022. Very Happy Christmas to you and an excellent 2022. best wishes Joanna and James

  2. Hope it gets better and better. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Speak Your Mind