For some reason, not a concrete or explainable one though, when you look back at vintages that end in the number 7, they are always the poorest for the region of Bordeaux. So, heading into 2017, the curse of the '7' vintages was ever present. Hopes that this year's vintage was going to proceed without incident were quickly quashed with a devastating frost on the nights of the 27th and 28th April 2017. These frosts not only affected the region of Bordeaux, but also many other regions in France. The 2017 production levels from France some of the lowest on record.
With frost this early on, two paths forward present. The resulting fruit set is significantly lower than the usual, the vine then having less to ripen can often produce concentrated and excellent fruit. As this frost was very early on, some vines produced a second fruit set, a second generation of fruit. This fruit set is never as good as the first. Surprisingly there are reports of producers using the second-generation fruit, though in the wines I tasted this was not the case. Those vineyards affected by frost generally produced less wine this year, the quality though was very good. It was certainly very evident that the producers had talked all they wanted to about the frost and that’s fair. It is prejudicial to look at this vintage, with this very early weather pattern in mind, and not consider anything else. There’s always much more of a story to a vintage than one weather event.
What followed was a very hot period which, whilst great for ripening the grapes, went on longer than ideal and resulted in hydric stress for some vines. Fortunately, it was at just this point that rain came. The rain provided the water the vines so desperately needed and put the balance back into the grapes. The rain was well timed to be forward enough from harvest to allow for the grapes to dry out after the rain and then stay on the vines for a long period to ensure ripening. These conditions then were preferred by Cabernet, which is dominant in many wines this year.
Drawing generalisations this year is fraught with danger. With the backdrop of the weather pattern, the location of the vineyard is the next factor to consider in assessing the resulting style and quality. The left bank fared much better than the right with regard to frost damage. Then within the left bank, the vineyards close to the river were naturally protected from the frost, with the river acting as a thermal buffer, as were many positioned quite high on the plateaus. There is then the pockets of clay through the left bank, Chateau Palmer springs to mind, where Merlot ripened well this year and there was very little damage.
Overall the right bank was hit very hard by frost. Chateau Puy Blanquet, for example, produced only 50% of their usual production and Chateau Grand Village made a tiny 9% of their usual production. Despite all these reports, the central plateau of Pomerol was largely unaffected. Chateau Petrus had no frost damage, though yield was down due to the dry summer.
With a long dry summer ending with rain episodes, the humidity, whilst a challenge and risk for the red wines, did provide excellent conditions for botrytis. 2017 is in fact an excellent year for Sauternes, these wines are certainly the shining star from the year.
The reds from 2017 are not to be dismissed for one second, in fact there's many exceptional wines from this year. What's true is that the wines overall are not as good as the 2015 or 2016 vintage, they are though wines that are very approachable as young wines and will mature to be excellent early drinking Bordeaux. This is a year though to select carefully as not all wines have excelled. The weather pattern did put a fair amount of pressure on chateaux; those with good skills and technology available, as well as those who are fanatical, have produced very good wines.