Category Archives: Bordeaux Vintages

Bordeaux 2017 – an overview of the vintage

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 ghastly frost damage in Bordeaux, 5 May 2017

The frost map of Bordeaux, 30 May 2017

The smallest harvest in France since 1945, 31 August 2017

Bordeaux 2017 – harvest and weather report, 2 Nov 2017

Bordeaux 2017 production figures by Appellation – the haves and have nots, 28 Feb 2018

Frost map of Bordeaux 2017 updated, 30 April 2018

Update: Bordeaux 2017 en primeur buying guide, May 2018

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Frost map of Bordeaux 2017 updated

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.

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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.

Bordeaux 2017 production figures by Appellation – the haves and the have-nots

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:

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Bordeaux 2017 – harvest and weather report

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

Appendix
The weather charts
Comparisons with previous years
Frost map of Bordeaux 2017

 

Introduction – a small crop Keep reading

Bauduc Harvest 2017

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

Smallest harvest in France since 1945 – 10 things to bear in mind

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

“Why pay nearly £100 for a magnum of claret?”

“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

Bordeaux 2016 en primeur – for the few, not the many

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

Bordeaux 2016 en primeur – what to buy

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.

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Bordeaux 2016 en primeur report

Harpers Article

Get the article here. pdfpdf – 1.4mb

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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.

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