Normally we’d be a bit miserable with these seasonal showers (above) yet we are delighted to report that there has been no repeat of the late spring frost that half-trashed our vines at the end of April last year. Once the risk of ‘les Saints des Glaces’ have passed by around the middle of May, we’ll only have to stress about the weather for a further five months.
Many readers will be familiar with the original frost map of Bordeaux that I put together after driving around the region a year ago, shouting ‘oh my God’ as I travelled from one valley of vineyards to the next. Since the data was gathered in a somewhat haphazard fashion, here is a new version with some real facts and figures. There’s quite a bit of detail so I recommend downloading the map as a pdf.
Note the contrast in fortunes between the famous appellations at the northern end of the Médoc – Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe – and those on the ‘Right Bank’ of the Gironde estuary, such as Saint-Emilion and its satellites.
March has been a bit mad. Our spirits have been tested in this last, thoroughly sodden week, but no doubt the Easter bunny will bring us all good cheer as spring approaches. Funnily enough, Good Friday is not a public holiday in France.
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.