May has been a month of highs and lows, and that’s before we even think about the vineyard.
Yet we’ve done a lot of venturing into the vines, at Bauduc and beyond. As you can see below, it’s shaping up to be a most unusual year. The crucial flowering – that’s Pavie, above, sniffing a bunch of flowering Merlot last night – is taking place right now..
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
If you’re not familiar with Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous line, please forgive us, but this has been a fraught month on many fronts. A serious risk of frost damage in the vines, the possibility of a catastrophic pairing in the final run-off for the French Presidency, and football – bloody hell.
The B-word we’re limiting ourselves to this month is B for Bordeaux 2016. It’s a terrific vintage that the trade and press are about to taste in situ, and our fascinating analysis of how the weather made it is linked to below. What made 2016 particularly unusual was that many French regions were far less fortunate for both quantity and quality.