Harvest 2017: France
The April frosts that swept across Europe this year left damaged vines in most of France’s growing regions.
This concerning start to the year was followed by a summer heatwave and drought – meaning harvest was brought forward for many producers. Quality is high across the board, but volumes have been severely dented – which might result in some regionalised price increases. The French agriculture ministry reported that the 2017 vintage is expected to be 19% down in volume against 2016, and 18% down on the five-year average.
“France experienced the double whammy of the April frosts and August heatwave. The north avoided the heatwave to some degree, the south the frost, while the west was greatly affected by both,” says Bibendum buyer for France Alastair Pyatt.
“Very limited rainfall in many regions prevented the grapes from reaching optimum size – this is the smallest French vintage on record. Comparisons have been made with the events that lead to the tiny frost-affected vintages of 1991 and 1945.”
Here’s a roundup from our producers across France:
Early bud burst due to a mild winter and early spring was followed by severe spring frosts in Champagne. This was followed by record summer temperatures, and a stormy August with localised hailstorms. The wet weather meant careful selection of grapes was necessary for Bruno Paillard, and reserve wines will likely need to be drawn upon. Acidity levels are looking promising, as is overall quality.
“2017 was one of the most precocious years since 1950,” says vineyard technical manager Cédric Gomes. “The rainstorms at the beginning of the harvest paved the way for a spread of botrytis. This required an extremely rigorous selection of the grapes during harvest. It was a demanding vintage for our 70th anniversary but the efforts were rewarded: the total acidity is very satisfactory and the balance of the musts looks very promising.”
Early-season frost has led expected volumes to decrease by 30% in Alsace, but Julien Schaal is positive about the quality of their grapes. “2017 has been a great vintage in Alsace,” says Julien. “Beside the low volume (25% down for us) we have extremely-concentrated wines. Overall we are anticipating very aromatic wines with a great acidity; this will probably be one of the most interesting vintages since 2010.”
The Loire Valley
Quantities are under pressure at Chateau Pierre-Bise, but Rene Papin anticipates high-quality juice. “Harvest is looking fantastic in terms of quality, with the correct balance between freshness and ripeness. Once again quantities are under some pressure, especially in areas such as Muscadet and some parts of Anjou and Touraine. Savennieres saw a particularly low crop this year. However, weather conditions were perfect (post frost), so what little has been produced will be delicious – there just won't be much of it!”
Domaine Jean Defaix | Chablis
Again in Burgundy, quality is high but yields are much lower than average. Despite burning candles during the sub-zero nights in the spring (some nights reaching -5C), Domaine Jean Defaix lost around 25% of their crop compared to a normal harvest.
“The 2017 crop looks very good in quality, with good concentration. Due to cool August weather the level of acidity is just perfect, and I think the wines will be very well balanced,” says winemaker Sebastien Dampt.
Domaine Yohan Lardy | Fleurie and Moulin-a-Vent
Both 2016 and 2017 have been challenging years for Yohan Lardy. This year’s crop was very small, largely due to the devastating hailstorm which hit Beaujolais on 10 July. Hand ploughing on steep slopes means yields are generally small for Yohan, but this year’s overall crop is down 50% compared with average.
A warm August helped to concentrate sugars in the grapes, and hand sorting was necessary to ensure that the quality fruit was kept healthy on the vine. It is expected to be a good quality harvest.
Bordeaux recorded some of the earliest harvest dates in some areas this year. The heatwave and low rainfall increased the speed of ripening, while April frosts devastated vineyards in almost all regions, with only Medoc on the left bank (basically surrounded by water) being a notable exception. The right bank appellations of St-Emilion (including its satellites) and Pomerol were particularly badly affected. Volumes are down by up to 50% in some areas, while the grapes are generally of high quality.
Chateau d'Arche | Sauternes
“2017 was complicated from start to finish,” says technical director Jerome Cosson. Budburst was early in Sauternes due to warm spring temperatures. The manes on the buds looked promising, but two heavy frosts were fatal to the young shoots. The parcels of Barsac and Leogeats (Graves) were particularly affected, and only the hillside sites were protected.
Harvest began in September as botrytis has started to develop. The vines were sorted three times, in order to pick grapes at their optimum levels of sugar ripeness. “The 2017 vintage leaves us with a bitter aftertaste. The weather was very complicated, but our efforts have been rewarded; the 2017 vintage will be very classic, and without too much sweetness.”
Domaine Catherine and Pascal Jamet
As with many other domaines, quality is looking good at Domaine Catherine and Pascal Jamet, while yields are down significantly – as much as 30% for their St Joseph blend. However, production was almost three times above average in Saint Peray, where the vineyards are younger, and this year saw their first official vintage of Dureza (Syrah’s parent varietal).
“Quality is great for the 2017 vintage, but the principal problem is quantity,” says owner Pascal Jamet. “The alcohol levels and colour of the grapes are good, but acidity is very low. The wine is tasting very fine; it’s powerful but not too hard. It will be a great vintage.”
Low temperatures in early May caused coulure on Grenache bunches at Alain Jaume, destroying many berries. Grenache constitutes 60% of production, so overall yields are lower than average. Low rainfall and lots of sunshine meant irrigation was necessary in some plots, but grapes developed well and overall quality is very high.
“So, once again, and after two great vintages in 2015 and 2016, the Rhone Valley will achieve an incredible quality vintage this year,” says winemaker Christophe Jaume. “The wines are loaded with fruit and very promising.”
Chateau Coupe-Roses | Minervois
Harvest began early in Minervois, with 2017 marking the first year ever that the chateau harvested their Muscat in August. Rainfall was even across the year, with storms in July and August but little problems caused for the vines. Warm days and cool nights through July meant that grapes developed well while maintaining acidity, and vines experienced little problems from disease. The quality of the harvested grapes is high.
Domaine Sainte Rose | Languedoc
Domaine Sainte Rose experienced ideal weather conditions during the growing season, and are seeing fantastic flavour and colour intensity across all grape varieties.
“All the whites have finished primary fermentation and are showing excellent acidity and aromas. The reds are showing marvellous ripe tannins and superb colour across the range. Highlights have included hand harvesting the new Pinot Noir plantations, and experimenting with an orange wine using some of our Roussanne grapes,” says owner Charles Simpson.
Chateau Maris | Minervois La Liviniere
Despite a lack of water in the vineyard over the last two years, the 2017 vintage was fruitful for Chateau Maris, with healthy grapes and good maturity. With 40 separate parcels of Grenache Gris, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, each with differing soil, sun exposition and altitude, ripeness levels can vary dramatically across sites and picking has to be done carefully. Most harvesting was done throughout September, beginning with Syrah and finishing with Grenache in early October.
Domaine Lafage | Perpignan
After drought conditions in 2016, autumn and winter experienced abundant rain. Spring was milder than usual, meaning budburst occurred earlier. This caused some problems in April when temperatures dropped below freezing, however the frost damage at Lafage was marginal. May and June were warm and the vineyards escaped the hail in July. Early-ripening white varieties were picked two to three weeks earlier than usual.
Harvest was delayed for red varieties, however, due to a cool September. Sunny days and cool nights offered ideal maturation conditions, assisting the development of anthocyanins and tannins.
“Quality and quantity reached our objectives this year,” summarised viticulture manager Pascal Marty. “The yields were up and down though, varying according to the varieties. For instance, the yields have been low for the Shiraz and Muscat Petits Grains due to a low number of inflorescences, a consequence of the extremely dry conditions during the 2016 induction period.”
Harvest was early in Provence, with warm weather and very little rain all summer; this is a trend Chateau Leoube has noticed over the past few years, and now begin harvesting nearly two weeks earlier than they would have done five years ago. Yields are down this year and berries were small due to a lack of water, but they were concentrated and full of flavour. This was consistent with most of the rest of France: a small but high-quality vintage.