This was also published on JancisRobinson.com and on Liv-ex
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:
The 2017 harvest in St-Emilion
Bordeaux 2017 will go down as the year of the frost. But now that the harvest is complete, it’s clear that this really is a vintage of haves, have-nots and somewhere-in-betweens. For those growers and châteaux with vineyards that weren’t hit, there has been every chance of making very good wine. Here is a look at how the weather stamped an indelible mark on the vintage, along with numerous images of the harvest.
Contents and highlights
Introduction – a small crop
45% down on last year due to April frost (update Feb 2018: 40% down on 2016)
The growing season
Pretty good – rain end of June, dry summer, hot August, damp start to September, fine finish
The harvest – a view from the top
80% of top wines from 150 leading châteaux not impacted by frost
The harvest – Left Bank
A good year for Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe
The harvest – Right Bank
A year of contrasts, in photos
The harvest – AC Bordeaux appellations
Mixed bag, an early harvest
Opinion – ‘très hétérogène’
A good, bad and ugly year
Opinion – a note on prices
Bulk prices up, not so for top wines
The en primeur tastings
Second not first week of April 2018
The weather charts
Comparisons with previous years
Frost map of Bordeaux 2017
Introduction – a small crop Keep reading
September is usually quite full-on, what with the start of the harvest and a new school year, but the 2017 edition has been bonkers. Not only have we completed the white harvest – which would normally be the case – but, as with the rest of Bordeaux this year, the reds are almost all in too. We’ve also hosted so many events at Bauduc we’ve had to recruit a live-in chef – what we’d have done without Elly, Lord knows. Keep reading
When Bordeaux sneezes, France catches a cold. As the white harvest begins at leading châteaux this week, and before a red grape has even been picked, here’s an update to the one statistic that the 2017 vintage will be remembered for: it’s a shockingly small crop, which in Bordeaux is down to that sharp frost in late April. Keep reading
“What is it that makes a person pay nearly £100 for a magnum of claret?” Richard Whitmore of BBC news asked Michael Broadbent, referring to a sale of Lafite 1870 in this short clip. These magnums of Lafite 1870 sold for under £100 in 1978. With inflation, that’s £550 in today’s money. The same wine is on sale now for £21,000 and, by that same token, the 41 magnums of Lafite 1870 that sold in that auction for £3000 almost 30 years ago would be worth £940,000 today. Keep reading
The Bordeaux en primeur campaign has come to a close. Farr Vintners, the UK’s biggest importer of fine wines from Bordeaux, reported that this, unsurprisingly, was their best campaign since the 2010 vintage. But it could have gone better. “Although this has been a successful campaign (and clearly a great vintage), we have only really sold 30-40 châteaux in volume. It would have been more successful if prices had been more reasonable. Too many proprietors have increased their prices without justification and many wines that could have sold well have actually sold poorly as a result of this. On top of this, we were also hindered by an exchange rate that was 15% worse than last year.” Keep reading
As they say, the wines that are really in demand you can’t get hold of, and the wines that are available no one wants to buy. However, there are some delicious wines that are affordable – and available – which are certainly worth a punt. Steven Spurrier, the hugely respected writer and critic for Decanter who retired from judging the primeurs earlier this year, told me that he didn’t buy wines that cost more than £500 a case en primeur/in bond (ie excluding duty and VAT) because he didn’t have any friends who’d appreciate them.
The Bordeaux 2016 ’en primeur’ machine marches relentlessly on. (Lordy, I’ve been to nine Chelsea matches since the official week of tastings began in Bordeaux at the start of April, and there’s still no end in sight.) Here’s a link to a copy of my Bordeaux 2016 report for Harpers, the UK trade magazine, including my favourite 100 red wines. You can find many of my scores tabled alongside other critics on Liv-ex, the London International Vintners exchange, here.
I can’t repeat the whole article here but here are some highlights.
Download a detailed pdf of this map here
As wine maps go, this isn’t the jolliest. The overnight frosts that swept through Bordeaux at the end of April 2017 were devastating for some vineyards but not for others, so – given the conflicting reports about price rises and chateaux ’holding back stock’ – I thought a map showing the levels of impact in different areas would help provide a clearer picture.
As I mentioned a week after the worst of the frosts, we lost about 50% of our potential harvest at Château Bauduc (near Créon on the map), comprising most of the lower slopes of our 25-hectare/63-acre vineyard.
The extent of the damage from the frost at the end of April is now becoming clear. Following on from three really good, generous vintages – culminating in the biggest Bordeaux harvest for more than a decade in 2016 – we’ve been brought back to earth with a very significant bump. Freezing temperatures in the early hours of Thursday 27 April, and to a lesser extent the morning before, have wiped out the crop in many vineyards, right at the start of the growing season. ‘The Lord giveth…’ you might think. ‘C’est la nature’ a neighbour said, with a consoling shrug of the shoulders.
Until last week, I don’t think I’ve ever taken the risk of Spring frosts that seriously. Really damaging frosts in Bordeaux are rare – the stuff of legends, such as the terrible one in April 1991, which almost killed off the harvest, and the even worse one in 1956, which killed off a lot of vines, notably on the Right Bank around St-Emilion.
We did, though, have a warning at exactly the same time last year, when temperatures dropped to freezing before sunrise (on 29 April, here). A few Bordeaux vineyards took a hit, but nothing compared to the losses in Champagne, Chablis and the Loire.
Being based further south, I’m less of ‘G for Gel’ man than ‘G for Grêle’. As anyone who is familiar with our tales of woe, it’s the threat of hail that sends me into a nervous spin. We lost over half the crop in May 2009 and again in August 2013 to hail, so it’s understandable.
But all that changed last week. ’Le gel dévaste les vignes de Gironde’ ran the headline in the Sud-Ouest last Friday, 29 April. And it wasn’t an exaggeration. Keep reading