The 6,500 growers in Bordeaux had to submit their 2017 harvest declarations in December and the numbers have now been counted up. While Bordeaux enjoyed the largest crop for over a decade in 2016, 2017 was 40% down on the previous year and 33% lower than the 10-year average. And with Bordeaux, 40% is a lot of wine – the equivalent of over 300 million fewer bottles from one year to the next.
The figures also confirm that 2017 was a year of dramatically mixed fortunes for those viticulteurs, and this was chiefly down to the varying levels of impact of the late spring frost at the end of April 2017. In an article entitled Epic crop fail made it a bad year for bulk wine, the Financial Times picked up on a counter-comment from my harvest and weather report last Autumn: “For enthusiasts, buyers and collectors of fine wine, it’s first worth noting that 80 per cent of the top 150 châteaux enjoyed a good harvest; there was minimal (frost) damage to the plots which provide the grapes for their first wine or ‘grand vin’. So, at the top end, there should be reasonable volumes, and good quality, from many of the blue chip names.”
In fact, the three leading appellations of the northern Médoc, Pauillac, St-Estèphe and St-Julien, actually had a larger crop in 2017 than the average of the five preceding vintages:
They were the lucky ones. The Drinks Business magazine referred to my harvest report above as a ‘now annual deep-dive into the recent growing season and harvest across the Gironde’ (thanks, Rupert), so here I’ll plunge even further with a look at the production figures.
All the appellations above escaped or suffered the least damage thanks to the benign influence of the Gironde estuary during the late April frost. Further south, many vineyards in Margaux and Pessac-Léognan were not so fortunate, though some were hardly hit, but overall figures in St-Emilion and Pomerol across on the Right Bank were fairly devastating. However, it should be noted that, despite the low production overall here, many of the top estates escaped the worst of the damage – especially those on higher ground. Here are the yields, expressed in hectolitres (100 litres) per hectare, over the last 12 years for the most prestigious red wine appellations:
A cold February has been good news for us as the vines have had a decent winter break, and we’ve been able to prune them without the imminent risk of the sap rising prematurely. We have, pretty much, just the young plantations to go now. We’re also relieved that we decided to delay the bottling of our 2017 whites and rosé until March, thus avoiding the freezing temperatures.
January has been anything but dry in the vineyard, and fairly miserable for the four who are out there pruning and the others who follow behind, pulling out and removing last year’s branches by hand. A rain-free, chilly fortnight ahead (since Sunday, above) will be most welcome for the vines to have a proper winter break.
Some thoughts on sourcing wine for charity, and this is by no means a definitive guide. Over the years, we’ve donated the wine for gala dinners, concert receptions, race evenings, lavish lunches, auction prizes – all sorts of things. Equally, we’ve had to turn down a lot of requests, and one of the main reasons (other than giving away precious stock) is the additional cost on top of the wine.
As we’ll see, a single case of 12 bottles of wine, with UK duty, shipping and delivery – and VAT on all those – costs £50, before counting the cost of the wine itself. Sparkling wine costs £8 a case more in extra duty. The donor therefore has to be pretty generous to stump up for the wine, with duty and delivery included, so it can make sense to split the bill: find a benefactor who will pay for the add-on part, and someone else to donate the wine. Keep reading
We all receive requests, from time to time, to support someone we know who’s putting themselves out to raise money for charity. Yet when some long standing customers, Bruce and Bridget Montgomery, asked us to support their son by donating the wine for a charity ball in London, we were blown away by what he’d set out to do. And now Paddy Montgomery, with his accomplice Seamus Crawford, has just completed the world’s toughest ‘triathlon’ by rowing across the Atlantic – 3000 miles from the Canaries to Antigua – braving waves of 40-50 feet and winds of over 40 knots. The ‘really brutal and horrible’ journey, according to Paddy, took 38 days, 22 hours, which was 2 days below the previous world record.