In general, the summer of 2022 was hot across the whole of Europe, with limited rainfall in the spring and early summer. Ostensibly a great weather pattern for the ripening of a healthy crop.
So, what can we expect from fine wine’s 2022 vintage? As usual, there were isolated Spring frosts, which pose a special risk in vineyards if they fall after the vines have budded, generally at the pend of March or early April. This seems to be a growing threat with the climate changing and often mild Februarys, which prompt early budding, especially in maritime areas.
The rain did come in the summer, and if it fell heavily or consistently, there was the ever-present risk of mildew, but this appears to have been far less of a problem in 2022 than it has in the past, especially in 2021, in western regions of France.
Harvest conditions varied, of course, but were generally very favourable, with largely dry and sunny early Autumn conditions. The heat of the earlier summer months – especially July and August prompted rapid and early ripening and saw one of the earliest harvests on record in many regions.
In North America, 2022’s summer was long and very hot, almost more so than in Europe. Although California was spared the forest fires of recent years, there will be some bold, rich and ripe wines as a consequence of the sunny conditions.
The intense series of heat waves (3 designated officially) from June and throughout July and August was mitigated by rain towards harvest. From Mid-may onwards, the heat caused a very advanced ripening. There were significant forest fires in the Landes region to Bordeaux’s south. Mercifully, and despite prevailing winds, neither these fires nor their smoke seems to have impacted the vineyards of the Médoc and further north.
There were isolated incidences of vine shutdown. This can create problems – as it did in the similarly hot 2003 – because the vine restarts ripening unevenly when the temperature drops sufficiently, leading to a curious fusion of super over-ripe and yet still green, especially in the seeds and tannins. It appears that 2022 has escaped this, although we must be careful in the Primeur assessments to spot it where it may have happened, in the most exposed areas.
This was a very early harvest, with whites beginning on 16 August. For the reds, it was similarly advanced – the Merlot began at the beginning of September, and some early autumn showers gave some much-needed freshness and very likely favoured the later ripening Cabernet over the Merlot.
“A historic climatic year and a very promising 2022 vintage expected in Bordeaux. A harvest that will, however be of low volume,” according to the CIVB
This looks set to be a good-to-great vintage for the red wines of Bordeaux, the whites perhaps less so. It is likely to continue the axis of 2005 – 2010 – 2015 – 2018 and has the potential to be among the best of those, certainly with a greater potential balance than 2015 and 2018. Because of its early ripening nature, heat tends to disadvantage Merlot more than Cabernet, suggesting it may be a more left-bank than right-bank vintage. Certainly, it will favour vineyards in clay and old vines. But it is too early to call, and certainly, some top St Emilion producers are expressing contentment.
There was very little botrytis in the vineyards of Sauternes, so their vintage will likely resemble that of 2018
A promising warm Burgundy vintage with little impact from spring frosts (even in Chablis), and actually higher than average rainfall, unlike the vineyards of Bordeaux to the west. But the price for this is significant hail damage – which is the curse of the warm weather in this continental climate region.
Unusually, the Pinot and Chardonnay harvests were roughly parallel this year after the long hot summer of the continent. The fruit is concentrated, although the berries are not as small as they have been in other recent warm vintages, meaning that quantities have returned to normal, even above average, which will provide some antidote to the very low yields (and the commensurate effect on volumes and pricing) of recent vintages. The harvest ran from 19 August until around 18 September, early, but not as exceptionally so as in some regions. It is a very promising and ample vintage about which the producers are all very happy. Still, it remains to be seen whether the perfect balance of acidity to potential alcohol will have been achieved. Pinot Noir above 14.5%, which seems at least possible if not actually likely, is rarely at the peak of balance for Bourgogne.
The Syrah and Grenache vineyards of North and South Rhône are more accustomed to the heat, and it appears as though they have fared well in this characteristic year. The very high alcohol levels threatened by the continuing sun and heat were ameliorated by much-needed harvest-time rain.
President of InterRhône Philippe Pellaton commented, “Qualitatively speaking, 2022 looks to be one of the best vintages of the last five years” and “particularly excellent for red wines with magnificent colour and structure thanks to good maturity levels”.
In Provence, the harvest continued the early picking of recent vintages, which will make for Rosés with the awkward choice of early for acidity or late for flavour, and only the careful, best (and more widespread) producers will have produced their best quality. The pockets of red wine quality across the south from Roussillon to Bandol, especially those cooled by the ocean winds, will have made great wine in 2022.
Champagne experienced limited spring frost, generally harmlessly before bud break, and healthy, if very warm, growing conditions. This resulted in a very early harvest (started on 20 August), almost double the size of 2021. The producers are happy, although it remains to be seen whether it will be a widely produced vintage year and whether it will be considered classic if it is. Likely to resemble 2003 in this respect.
Maxime Toubart, the Winegrowers’ president, commented: “Thanks to a bountiful, high-quality harvest and with the exceptional permission of the INAO (the governing body for protected designations of origin), winegrowers have been able to rebuild reserves that were substantially depleted by the 2021 winegrowing year.”
The cooler northern regions of the Loire embraced the sunshine, and the fruit was very clean and healthy as a result of no mildew or rot. This suggests very good reds and forward, ripe whites, although possibly with slightly unbalanced alcohol levels (14 – 15% in the classic Sauvignon regions). Some late autumn mist created excellent conditions for botrytis in Anjou/Layon.
The warm conditions that characterised the whole of Europe were present in Italy too. And there was a similar lack of rainfall during the summer. But proximity to the sea, or mountains, has compensated in part, and some early Autumn rains breathed new life into the vines just when they needed it most. All this has resulted in an excellent vintage across the country, especially for reds. Look for old vines in particular in the hot south, which were able to support themselves through the worst of the drought.
Here the drought of the summer was compounded by an exceptionally dry winter preceding it, with barely any snow or rain. Old vines or sites with good water access fared best. The result is a small crop, but the flavours are intense and will make high quality, certainly from the best sites.
It’s a similar story in Chianti, where the best vineyard areas were cooled or protected in some way from the heat of the summer, whether by forests, cover crops or altitude. Young vineyards, and those in gravel or pebbly soil got very stressed, and some irrigation was both permitted and essential. As ever, the greatest sites, especially those with clay, have fared best. Expect a concentrated warm vintage along the lines of 2003.
Although hot, in most of Spain’s lower-lying regions, it was not massively hotter than normal, but it was drier, with drought conditions in Priorat and Rioja especially. This has reduced yields but made for concentration in the red wines, with no mildew or rot at all.
In Ribera del Duero, arguably home to Spain’s greatest reds, the continentality exaggerated heat, with temperatures getting well into the 40s (as high as 46.8C). This is getting too hot for Tempranillo (known here as Tinta Fina), resulting in an early harvest. Expect high alcohol and perhaps less than normal longevity, but with great depth of flavour.
With only a few localised storms providing relief from the heat and drought of the summer, there was considerable hydric stress in the vineyards, which was relieved – perhaps too late – after the harvest had begun with significant rain in early September, leading to an anxious protracted harvest..
The fruit across the country was, therefore, very ripe and in good condition if harvested prior to the Autumn storms, but the quantities are severely down. Areas further north (Mosel and Ahr) appear to have fared best – which is good news for the latter as they are still recovering from the disastrous floods of 2021.
A very good vintage it appears, in California. The mild spring encouraged early growth in the vineyards. This was followed by a warm but not exceptionally hot summer. Around Labor Day (4th September) a heatwave descended, meaning there will be a difference between those who picked early and those who waited it out. The latter wines risk being very rich and perhaps overly alcoholic. The former will have greater freshness but possibly at the expense of flavour and tannin development.
The early bud break meant a few places (Lodi, the Sierra foothills) suffered a late spring frost, which has impacted yields. The heat affected crops, especially Pinot Noir, further south in Monterey and surrounding areas. Here the yield has been dramatically reduced, and the wines may lack delicacy as a result.
Napa and Sonoma experienced significant – and much-needed – winter rainfall, which put it in a good position for the following Spring of 2022, which was relatively cool. The summer heated up and accelerated ripening, which was compensated for by cool overnight temperatures. Nevertheless a relatively early harvest but of great concentration and quality.
In Oregon, the hot summer saved a frost-ridden and cool spring and rescued what looked like it might be a disaster – they need to pick in September as October is almost always too wet for a successful harvest, and the August heatwave meant that they could. It will be a small harvest though.
Similar wintry conditions extending well into the Spring were felt in Washington State but the ripening season sped up due to the warmth of the summer resulting in a small, but good, crop at a normal harvest time.
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia experienced a late cool Spring, and the summer was warm but not hot, certainly not as hot as recent vintages, and with no forest fires. Probably one of the best vintages here in the last decade.
The Icewine harvest in Niagara looks set to be well into January 2023.
Sunshine hours in England and Wales have been more than double the average, and conditions have also been abnormally dry. The harvest started mid-September (early) and continued throughout October in perfectly clement conditions. It looks set to be a large and very fine harvest, although it is a little early to call as the majority will be made into sparkling wine.