Every year on the 23rd May, I take a photo of the Merlot vines outside the château and each picture tells a story. From the hailstorm in May in 2009, to the early harvest in 2011 and 2017, the grotty start to the growing season in 2013 and the normal, good years like 2016. Here are some of those photos.
No two years are the same in Bordeaux but this one, with any luck, was unique. 2017 will no doubt be remembered as the year of the frost but it’s also a vintage in which many of the top châteaux produced some very good wines. It was, for sure, a year when location really mattered.
As well as that, and beyond the spring frost, 2017 was an atypical, early growing season, with an early and successful flowering in late May, sunshine in June then heavy rain at the of the month, followed by a dry and cool summer, some late August heat, and then rather too many damp days just before the red harvest in September. It’s rare for the red harvest to be wrapped up for many estates by the end of September, especially for the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon – as at Château Montrose in St-Estèphe above.
Bizarrely, an unusual year all round has conjured up some classically proportioned red Bordeaux – and some excellent whites too, both dry and sweet.
Here are my previous articles on the vintage:
The smallest harvest in France since 1945, 31 August 2017
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.
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:
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