Wine growers in France prepare for earliest harvest in decades

Record sunlight, a dry spring and warmer than average temperatures could signal one of the earliest harvests in decades for Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne vintners.

According to Decanter magazine, the 'flowering' season - a marker growers use to schedule their harvest - came a full month earlier in French wine country. While flowering generally occurs at the end of May, this year France experienced the driest May on record since 1920, triggering premature flowering to occur by May 1.

Though most wineries agreed it's too early to discuss the quality of their vintages, in general the risk of early harvesting and premature ripeness is that a vintage may not be as aromatically complex as other bottles, Decanter explains.

An unseasonably warm growing season in 2003 in Bordeaux also resulted in prematurely early harvests, producing what one expert described as a "sorry bunch" of dry white wines, lacking flavor and freshness two years later.

On his blog, The Wine Doctor, Chris Kissack said that the red wines, however, had a superbly ripe fruit but lacked the mineral blackcurrant flavors typical of Bordeaux. Kissack also judges for the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Generally, the white wine harvest in Bordeaux starts at the beginning of September, while the red wine harvest begins near the end of the month.

But many wineries - including Petrus, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Marquise d'Alesme Becker - said they expect to harvest in late August.

In Burgundy, vintners are reporting the same phenomenon: winery Domaine Leflaive expects to start harvesting August 25, the earliest since 1893, Anne-Claude Leflaive told the publication.

In the Champagne growing region of France, meanwhile, Decanter reports that the "August holidays" - traditionally when the French take the full month off for vacation - have been "canceled" in anticipation of an early harvest - possibly the earliest on record.

There too, flowering occurred a month earlier than normal.