After the April frosts, the growing season proved quite demanding. The need for different vineyard management strategies, between frost-affected and unaffected vines required an intense level of work and a constant monitoring from our teams. We had to devote weeks of painstaking work in order to start harvesting with both caution and confidence. We had to constantly adapt to the conditions: precision and responsiveness are the two words which best sum up this year, from the vineyard to the cellar.
A PROMISING START
Winter will be remembered for significant water deficit, and remarkably mild temperatures despite the cold spell in January. According tMeteo France, France saw the warmest March since 1957. In these mild temperatures, the first buds appeared the third week in March, on clay and warmer soils alike, on 20th March at Château Pey La Tour in Entre-deux-Mers and 22nd March at Château Le Boscq in Saint-Estèphe.
At this stage, good, even budburst signalled an early vintage. And, in these mild conditions, plant growth was vigorous, with the vineyard already green by mid-April, with signs of the new grapes already clearly visible.
HARD FROST STRIKES….
The impact on Dourthe vineyards varied from one vineyard to the next; while Château Le Boscq and Château La Garde managed to avoid frost damage or were only slightly affected, the estates in Saint-Emilion suffered significant losses.
Mild weather in May promoted new growth on the frost-damaged vines, and abundant, yet generally non-fruiting shoots. To avoid exhausting the weakened vines, work in the vineyard was long and tiring, including several rounds of desuckering to promote the growth of axillary buds together with systematically removing any secondary grape bunches to allow the few remaining original bunches to flourish. Our work was also guided with an eye to shaping the 2018 harvest.
Meanwhile the frost-free vines continued to develop normally. Early flowering on 18th May at Château La Garde in Pessac-Léognan and 24th May at Château de Ricaud in Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, took every advantage of a dry and sunny May and grew rapidly. To our great relief, this tricky period went well.
A SUMMER OF CONTRASTS BUT MAINLY FAVOURABLE
June and early July saw heatwave conditions alternate with heavy rain, which significantly accelerated veraison. This was clearly visible in the Merlot from14th July on the gravel soils of Château Le Boscq, and also commenced early, on 22nd July, on the later-ripening clay soils of Château Reysson in Haut- Médoc. Veraison in the Sauvignon at Château La Garde got underway on 17th July.
By the start of August, the frost-free vineyards were still almost two weeks ahead compared to 2016, while the more moderately affected vines even managed to claw back some of the delay. The welcome sight of very healthy grapes restored our confidence.
August was defined by hot days and cooler, damp spells. The weather suited both red and white grapes alike: relentlessly hot days followed by cool nights accelerated ripening while retaining the natural acidity in the fruit.
SEPTEMBER : EARLY HARVEST
On 12th September, the final tasting of the Merlot grapes revealed real quality potential. On the free-draining, gravel parcels, the grapes were ready to pick while parcels on clay soils or the old vines could wait a little.
The rainy weather forecast for later in the week prompted our decision of 2 or 3 days for the parcels of young or very early ripening vines, which are more fragile due to their already thin skins. We gave the green light to start picking the Merlots on 13th September at Château Reysson, Rahoul and La Garde.
After a fortnight of contrasting weather, with sunshine, cool temperatures and rain, on 18th September conditions took a significant turn for the better and completed ripening in the later varietals. The good weather lasted until October, with just the right temperatures, cool nights, perfect for creating the remaining phenolic and aromatic compounds.
Given the mild weather and total absence of disease pressure, we were afforded the luxury of “a la carte” harvesting, leisurely selecting the optimum picking time for each parcel or micro parcel. The 2017 vintage is nevertheless considerably earlier than the seasonal average: the last Cabernet Sauvignons at Château Belgrave were harvested 3rd October, when in some years we would just be starting to pick the Merlot. Completing the reds at Château Pey La Tour on 6th October, on relatively late-ripening soils and two weeks ahead of schedule, is extremely rare.
Rigorous selection ensured that only the ripest, fullest and premium quality fruit entered the tanks. Selection started on the vines, removing any secondary fruit that was triggered by April frosts in certain plots, and continuing as the fruit is received at the winery, using high-performance selection, by optical sorting at Château Belgrave, Reysson, Le Boscq and La Garde, and meticulous sorting by machine at Château Rahoul, Ricaud and Pey La Tour.
VINIFICATIONS A LA CARTE
In this highly technical year, where the choices made by the vineyard managers and the winemakers have made all the difference, caution has been the key to success in the cellar. We have taken a huge amount of care, working with each individual vinification to extract the best quality tannins and anthocyans and to get the best out of each grape variety from each vineyard lot. Above all, we have favoured a smooth, intense and elegant structure.
With such great contrasts across the appellations, the 2017 vintage is a complete surprise. If, in some of our properties affected by the frost, the volumes are well below average, we can confirm that some lots are showing good, indeed excellent potential in terms of quality.