The dates of the grape-harvest: who decides?

Inspiration

Food and Wine

Couple de vignerons au milieu de pieds de vigne, pendant les vendanges
© © goodluz / Adobe Stock - Couple de vignerons au milieu de pieds de vigne, pendant les vendanges

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 9 March 2024, updated on 15 April 2024

World famous, French wines are subject to very strict rules. And it all starts with the harvest! How is the date set each year? Are there any differences depending on the region where a vineyard is planted? Find out now!

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.

Late harvests

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.

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:

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Vignobles sur les bords de la Loire.
© Interloire/Philippe Caharel - Vignobles sur les bords de la Loire.

De fin août... à mi-octobre selon les régions viticoles

La déclaration des bans marque le début des vendanges : 15 jours de labeur, échelonnés sur 3 mois selon la région viticole. En général, les vendanges sont plus précoces au sud qu’au nord. Dès la fin août, les vignobles du sud de la France (Corse, Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon) ouvrent le bal des sécateurs. Puis c'est au tour du Beaujolais, du Bordelais, de la Champagne puis du Cognac.

  • Fin août : Corse, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence.
  • Début septembre : Beaujolais, Vallée-du-Rhône méridionale.
  • Mi-septembre : Vallée-du-Rhône septentrionale, Bordelais, Bourgogne, Bugey et Savoie, Jura, Centre, Sud-Ouest, Val-de-Loire.
  • Fin septembre : Alsace, Champagne.
  • Début octobre : Charentes, Cognac, Lorraine.

Vendanges tardives

Par choix, certains vignobles comme les Gewurztraminer ou le Riesling en Alsace, optent pour une récolte tardive, soit vers la mi-octobre. Résultat : un raisin plus mûr, donc plus sucré. Et des vins à la robe jaune paille au gout de miel, de poires et de fruits confits. Vin du Sud ouest, le Jurançon se prête aussi aux vendanges tardives. Un nectar sucré s’en dégage, rehaussant à merveille les mets de la région du Béarn, comme le confit de canard ou le foie gras.

Vendanges (très) tardives : le vin de glace

Et puis, il existe les vins de glace d'Alsace, récoltés en décembre ou janvier ou encore février en fonction des caprices de la météo. Gelé, le raisin évacue ses paillettes de glace lors du pressurage. Conséquence : un vin au taux de sucre élevé, idéal pour accompagner les desserts et autres mets sucrés.

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