Home > Editorial > Northern Rhône 2022: vintage report


Published: 5th March 2024



Catriona Felstead MW, Rhône Wine Buyer

Despite battles with heat and drought, growers in the Northern Rhône produced delightfully elegant and structured wines. Here, our Buyer Catriona Felstead MW shares her insight on this fresh, defiant vintage.

A common thread weaves through our discussions with winemakers in the Northern Rhône about the 2022 vintage – their huge relief (and slight surprise) at how well this vintage has turned out. In 2022, they experienced some of the most extended spring and summer drought conditions of recent times. How has this resulted in a glorious vintage of perfectly ripe fruit with such freshness and precision? To understand this paradox, we must start in the previous year.

In 2021, an especially wet October brought extensive water reserves to the soil, which would be essential to the vines later in the season. From then on, there was much less water than normal. Rainfall was recorded by Paul Jaboulet Aîné as being 25% lower during the autumn and winter of 2021 compared to averages between 2010 and 2020.

January to April saw relatively normal temperatures but then things started to change, with May becoming one of the hottest in the region since the beginning of the 20th century. A late budburst was followed by an extremely early and quick flowering period in the second half of the month, whilst temperatures generally remained over 30 degrees Celsius during the day – and still no rain.

Maison Chapoutier comments that, “by the end of May, the Northern Rhône Valley had received 110mm of rain, about three times less than in recent vintages... the third lowest level of rainfall since 1959, after 1976 and 2003.” Fortunately, a sprinkling of rain in June gave gasping vines a much needed, 90mm drink. Then came the first of three successive, sub-Saharan heatwaves. Pierre Rostaing describes how, at first, this caused vines to “explode” over the next two weeks, requiring unprecedented green harvesting in June in Côte-Rôtie to balance the vines’ growth, with the inevitable loss of yield.

The heatwaves continued in cycles over July and August with temperatures frequently peaking at over 40 degrees Celsius. Biodynamic growers worked hard in the early evenings, spraying camomile and yarrow to protect foliage to ensure shading for the grapes – some of which had started to suffer from sunburn. Thankfully, there was no disease pressure in 2022 as it was just too dry.

The problem with the extended heatwaves was some vines started to shut down. Growers became very worried from late July about vine growth and the grapes’ ability to ripen. Lionel Fraisse of Domaine Alain Voge described some of the vines on his steepest slopes in Cornas as being “like bonsai trees”, hardly growing at all. Yields were badly affected.

On the 15th August came a miracle for the North (with harsher consequences for some in the South) in the form of a rainstorm. Every single Northern grower in our offer said it “saved the vintage”. Smiling at the memory, Stéphane Ogier describes how he returned from a family holiday that day and walked through the vineyards in the rain whilst he, and the vines, visibly relaxed and breathed amongst the calm of the falling water.

Harvest was “historically early” according to Jaboulet who started picking their Roussannes on 16th August. Most allowed the reds a little more time, but many started picking before the end of August. Grapes miraculously achieved full physiological ripeness although the drought has caused lower sugars in the juice, leading (in a welcome turn of events) to only moderate alcohols again this vintage.

It seems such a paradox, but the excessive heat and drought stress of 2022 has resulted in truly gorgeous wines. Wines with ripe fruit but which are balanced and singing with glorious freshness. Franck Balthazar says “unexpected accessibility” is a hallmark of the vintage whilst Emmanuel Darnaud states “a beautiful balance of freshness is a denominator of the vintage”. Stéphane Ogier speaks of the “concentration and depth yet delicacy” of his cuvées and Jean-Luc Jamet tells of the “minerality, finesse, length and beautiful character” of the vintage resulting in “very beautiful wines”.

Guillaume Sorrel explains how 2022 feels fresher than either 2019 or 2020, even though it was much drier. There is a general feeling amongst growers that their vines are adapting their root systems to compensate for this “new normal” after a succession of hot, dry vintages in the Northern Rhône. That and, of course, the magic of their terroir which withstands so much. We adored this vintage and are delighted to present you with our selection of favourite wines from 2022 which, with their moderate alcohol levels, are so harmonious whilst being delicious, ripe and wonderfully refreshing.