Picking has started for white wine grapes and Bordeaux is facing a record early harvest in some areas for Merlot, but only Médoc on the Left Bank has so far escaped the worst of nature's wrath in 2017.
Frost aftermath will be felt most in Graves and Right Bank
Good summer has brought optimism for quality, but overall yields down 41% on 2016
The first white grapes in the Bordeaux 2017 harvest entered the cellars on 21 August at Château Latour-Martillac Pessac-Léognan, 10 days earlier than the average start date.
Châteaux Smith Haut Lafitte and Rochemorin joined in on 24 August, and Châteaux Carbonnieux, Brown and Haut-Brion from 28 August.
Bordeaux’s 2017 growing season has been complicated first by the devastating frosts seen early in the season, which has meant that the expected yield will be down by as much as 41% on 2016.
This part of the world was hit much harder than the rest of France, which could still see its lowest overall crop since 1945 – and around 17% down on last year.
Hailstorms further complicated the picture in Graves on 27 August, notably in Podensac, Illats, Virelade and Cérons being particularly badly affected.
The 98 hectare Château Chantegrive is one of the estates reporting severe problems. It saw up to 70% of vines damaged by frost and, after the hail, cellarmaster Michel Mesnard told French media that it was possible there wouldn’t be enough ripe grapes to make a red this vintage.
It’s early days, of course.
And, while frost-hit areas in Graves and the Right Bank expect fewer grapes in 2017, good weather during flowering and a dry summer have mean that the quality of what remains is highly promising.
‘There will of course be fewer grapes after the frost, but we are expecting an extremely high quality vintage,’ said Pierre Olivier Clouet at Château Cheval Blanc, where the white wines were all brought in around 23 August 23rd and the reds were due to begin around 6 September.
There are some areas such as the parts of the Médoc that have managed to avoid both frost and hail, and are looking at an extremely successful vintage.
Frederic Vicaire, of Châteaux Coufran and Verdignan in AOC Haut-Médoc, expected to begin picking the first Merlots around 15 September, around two weeks earlier than usual, reflecting a generally early harvest across the region.
‘We have been lucky and escaped the frost and hail so far, so have good quantity of what look to be extremely high quality grapes,’ Vicaire told Decanter.com.
Consultancy firm Oenoconseil said that Sauvignon Gris in early-ripening plots was now almost entirely harvested, with an average alcohol potential of 14%abv, and good acidity levels after a hot start to the summer but a relatively fresh August.
‘The white juice is aromatically fresh and expressive,’ said Antoine Medeville, of Oenoconseil.
‘The reds continue to display an extremely early phenolic maturity, with the Merlots looking like they will see their earliest ever harvest, and combine great maturity with excellent levels of acidity.
‘The summer has been dry but not especially sunny which has resulted in good balance. Some plots are not even going to make it as far as the Médoc Marathon next Saturday 9 September – unheard of before now.’