Dear Friends of La Cendrillon,
We are now into winter and the vat room is still resonating with the fermentations of our Corbières. The maturing phase of this year’s wines, crucial for their development, is now in full swing.
2021, as well as being a late vintage, was a year with more than its fair share of ups and downs. Even though every year is demanding, and presents numerous challenges, this 2021 vintage has been one of the most complex in the entire history of the Domaine, with early spring frost, a hot, excessively dry summer, and a very wet autumn.
The old saying in Champagne: “Year ending in one, harvest none” was not far off the mark!
Finally we lost 50% of the crop, but we are proud to have been able to make something from each of our parcels, even if it is far from what we might have normally expected. We have nevertheless succeeded in maintaining the principles that have guided us for many years. It is certainly a vintage that will remain engraved in our memories.
Let’s run through what was a very tough vintage.
It began with the first season in the cycle, the one that sets the tone for the future vintage… winter 2021.
An incomplete winter
Things started well at the beginning of the winter. There were long periods of cold weather up to the beginning of February, which allowed us to prune the vines and work the soils.
Unfortunately, the winter became progressively warmer, with mild temperatures in February provoking early budbreak in the vines, and putting us at risk of a catastrophe that we hadn’t experienced for many years.
A devastating spring
After a winter which was much too warm, the spring that followed only accentuated a persistent fear of an unstable year. In the Languedoc, and more particularly in the Corbières, spring is the season that presents the most risks. And sure enough, as spring arrived, our vines began to shoot much earlier than normal with temperatures in January and February far hotter than we could have imagined. The frost that hit during the night of 7 to 8 April, with temperatures that fell to some -8°C in the vineyard, dealt the vines a fatal blow. We knew that there was a risk of this happening, but not so abruptly. And, inevitably, that night saw over 70% of our vineyard devastated. We could only wait for the night to pass, the extreme cold gave us no possibility of taking any action in the vines so we had no choice but to remain patient. The damage was clear the very next morning, with black, frost-bitten shoots on practically 70% of the vines.
A phenomenon not seen for 75 years
Frost is quite rare in the Languedoc, and particularly in the Corbières. And frost of this intensity has not been seen in our village for more than 75 years. After those terrible nights in April, morale was very low and the team found it difficult to move on. Everyone knew that there was nothing to be done and they just had to accept it. Extreme occurrences are one of the risks of our profession, so we just had to focus on the job and do everything we could to get the best from what remained. A lot easier said than done, that’s for sure!
The rest of the spring was calm with temperatures that were average for the season. It is a critical time when the vegetative growth of the vines is at its peak. But it is also a time when the risk of endemic diseases is at its greatest, for example downy or powdery mildew that are fungi that thrive in an environment of combined humidity and warmth. We therefore have to be particularly vigilant to detect and avoid the appearance of these diseases. Fortunately the largely clement weather kept the vineyard in good health, with hot, dry days that allowed the vines to regain strength after the trauma of April.
An exceptionally dry summer
During the summer persistent hot weather and sun diminished the soil’s water reserves. Although many parts of France experienced a wet summer, unfortunately not a drop fell on our vines. The high temperatures during this period were not at all beneficial to their development, and although they were in good health, these vines that had already been profoundly affected by the frost now suffered from the lack of water, and hydric stress. The onset of veraison, when the berries begin to change colour, was very disparate from one parcel to another, with sometimes a difference of several weeks between bunches on the same vine. We were able to limit the effects of drought on one half of the vineyard as it is equipped with drip irrigation which we are authorized to use periodically in the summer.
2021: A Challenging Vintage
The moment of truth: the harvest. We started picking at the end of August, and already there were complications due to the difference in maturity levels caused by the April frost. After the first two weeks when we brought in the whites and began on the first Grenache and Syrah, almost 40mm of rain fell in just two days around the 10 September. This had a very positive effect, particularly on the Syrah that we picked just afterwards, notably adding significant freshness to the wine profiles. However, the week after this was also very wet, to the extent that the condition of the grapes in the parcels of Grenache and Mourvèdre began to deteriorate.
As a result, it was a really demanding vintage which required meticulous attention and sorting during harvesting. At the beginning we rigorously selected the grapes on the bush to ensure we didn’t pick any that weren’t ripe because of the frost. Then in the second half we had to carefully sort the grapes to retain only those that were perfectly healthy. In certain parcels we sometimes picked no more than a third of the grapes.
Fortunately, the team proved extremely reactive during this time, and made the most of the small windows of opportunity offered by the weather. A lot of hard work, and painstaking sorting! Pressed for time because of the rain, we had to accelerate picking and bring forward the end of harvest by almost 15 days compared to last year. All in all, quantities will be small in 2021. With yields cut by 50% we have produced less than half of what we would do in a normal year.
We finished picking the last Mourvèdre on 29 September, some 15 days earlier than usual.
In the cellar we have notably continued our trials of wild ferments. Last year we vinified 13hl of Carignan without the addition of selected yeasts, with very satisfactory results. So this year we wanted to test a bigger volume, and especially be able to compare it with fermentation using selected yeasts. We therefore chose one of our parcels – the Syrah Chabardes – that we split between three different vats. The first was seeded with the neutral yeast, F33, that we habitually use for most of our fermentations. For the other two, fermentation took place with wild yeasts using two different methods. In spite of a slight incident in these two vats after 24 hours with a bit of acetate developing in the cap, we were able to rectify things by light pumping over to air them, and finish fermentation. Once again the result is very encouraging. Apart from the satisfaction of having fermented the wines exclusively with the natural yeasts from our terroir and of the vintage, the wines are fresher, have more life, with variable expressions at different moments, and above all half a degree less of alcohol. This certainly motivates us to continue the experiment next year.
We had to fight to save this vintage, but thanks to the fantastic work of the team we have some great juice in the cellar, with wine profiles that are fresh and not overly extracted. Finally, the cool September compensated for the heat and drought of the summer months. After some finely managed fermentations, the results of vinification and ageing are highly promising. We should not cry victory too soon, but we have done everything that was in our power to do.
We hope that you and your family are keeping well, and warmly invite you to visit us at the Domaine to taste this extraordinary 2021 vintage.
We look forward to hearing from you!
The “Team Cendrillon”
A look back at 2021
PS: if you were wondering what Hubert does in his spare time at the Domaine… well, he turns his hand to cultivating cuttings! Vine twigs that are cut off during pruning are put in water to stimulate the growth of a new bud, with the aim of growing a new young plant. You can discover the process in this small selection of photos!