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The 2017 vintage
Dourthe vineyards
Harvest 2017    |    Harvest 2016    |    Harvest 2015


Chapter 1

Dourthe 2017 harvest gets underway
September 1st 2017

With the go-ahead signalled on 28th August, picking commenced at Chateau Rahoul, Graves on a parcel of Sauvignon. “After the April frosts, it has been a fairly challenging year so far, requiring relentless work in the vineyard which constantly kept us on our toes. Further to long weeks of meticulous work, it is with confidence and a watchful eye that we now face the harvest”. Frederic Bonnaffous, Director, Vignobles Dourthe, guides us through the seasons for an insight into the 2017 vintage as it unfurls.


Winter will be remembered for significant water deficit, and remarkably warm temperatures despite the cold spell in January. According to Meteo France, the country saw the warmest March since 1957.

In these mild temperatures, the first buds appeared the third week in March, on the 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.


However, frosts on the nights of 20th, 27th and 28th April brought an abrupt end to this positive stretch and only a few appellations were spared.

The impact on the Dourthe vineyards varied from one vineyard to the next; while Chateau Le Boscq and Chateau La Garde managed to avoid frost damage or were only slightly affected, the estates in Saint-Emilion suffered some losses, with reduced volumes almost inevitable.

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-Leognan and 24th May at Château de Ricaud in Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux, took full advantage of a dry and sunny May and grew rapidly. To our great relief, this tricky period went well.


June and early July saw heatwave conditions alternate with heavy rain, which significantly accelerated veraison. This was clearly visible in the Merlot from July 14th on the gravel soils of Château Le Boscq, and also began early, on 22nd July, on the later-ripening clay soils of Chateau 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 two weeks ahead of 2017, 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.


In early August, the Sauvignon grapes at Château La Garde and Château Rahoul were already highly perfumed. The cool nights and less intense sunshine that followed enhanced the concentration and balance in the grapes. The vines at this stage were still around 10 days ahead of schedule.

Retaining freshness and aromatics as our utmost priority, we began to pick a parcel of Sauvignon on the gravel soils of Chateau Rahoul on 28th August. Picking is set to continue the following day at Chateau La Garde. Picked before the heat of the midday sun, the first grapes are just as we hoped, and are fleshy, delicious and fresh.

The red grapes are also looking early. In the case of the Merlot grapes, which have developed rapidly amid excellent conditions, harvesting should commence mid-September, closely followed by the Cabernets and Petit Verdot.

Stay tuned for the first update on the white wines, which we will share as soon as the Sauvignon and Semillon harvest is complete.

Frédéric Bonnaffous.

“September weather on our side”

“September more than made up for a bone-dry August. Tempered from the outset by cooler temperatures, the weather came to our aid 13 and 14 September, bringing rain to a vineyard much in need.

Varying in intensity depending on locality – with 18mm at Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac-Saint Emilion Grand Cru, and 38 - 45mm in Médoc and Graves – rain revived the vines just when it mattered. Despite the storms, no untoward damage was caused.

The rain gave way to an Indian summer that still lingers today, characterised by abundant sunshine and a fall in average temperatures with chilly mornings and nights. Conditions like these promote healthy conditions in the vines, and benefit both the dry whites and also ripening in the reds. We are now all set to start the promising red harvest…”

Dry whites: the promise of lovely balance by FRÉDÉRIC BONNAFFOUS

“Again this year, our quest for balance and freshness, the hallmark of our wines, will have a huge impact on harvesting dates for each parcel.

The early-ripening Sauvignons on clay-limestone at Chateau La Garde (Pessac-Léognan) and on the clay soils at Chateau Rahoul (Graves) were picked 6-12 September in the cool of the morning. I always focus on preserving the acidity to prevent the wines becoming too heavy. On the later-ripening right bank, at Chateau de Ricaud the Sauvignon was fully ripe by 13 September, while the Sauvignon blanc for Dourthe N°1 and Dourthe La Grande Cuvee was ripe by week commencing 19 September, where harvesting has only just finished. After good even bunch set and good flowering, volumes are good, with similar acidity levels to 2015 and well-balanced musts, and around 12/13% potential alcohol. Aromas are typical of the different terroirs.

“The Semillons are looking very promising and really reaped the benefits of the first two weeks in September. The predominant varietal at Chateau Rahoul, it brought a close to the white grape harvest on the left bank on 26 September, while the last remaining parcels on the right bank were harvested 27 September at Chateau de Ricaud. With good acidity and just the right potential alcohol, this should bring lovely balance to the wines…”

“In the starting blocks for the Merlot”

“With no respite after the whites, we are just starting to harvest the reds. Merlot has without a shadow of a doubt thrived in the great weather. The grape bunches are consistent, with lovely concentrated colour and tannins.They also have good potential aromas, intensified by cooler temperatures over the last two weeks.

A few blocks of young vines were picked 27 September at Chateau La Garde (Pessac-Léognan) and Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac (Saint-Emilion), and 28 September at Chateau Reysson (Haut-Médoc), Chateau Belgrave (Haut-Médoc) and at Chateau Pey La Tour on the right bank. Harvesting will step up a gear next week as the weather continues to hold. The vines are in good health so we are in no rush and are only picking the parcels or micro-parcels when they are ripe.”

To be continued…

“Ideal weather creating Merlot grapes of great potential”

“We were under no pressure to harvest the Merlot. The excellent health of the vines meant we could wait. This year, the high tannic concentration has therefore benefited from the lasting Indian summer during the first two weeks of October to slowly complete ripening.

The harvest really started between 3-5 October on the Left Bank - at Châteaux Belgrave and Reysson in Haut-Médoc, Le Boscq in Saint-Estèphe, La Garde in Pessac-Léognan and Rahoul in Graves - though we had to wait until 10 October to start picking at Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac in Saint-Emilion - a first for the château!

Harvesting is carried selectively “à la carte” at all our properties, with frequent pauses. Harvesting the Merlot for some of our chateaux came to a close towards the end of last week (14 October for Chateaux Belgrave, Reysson, La Garde, de Ricaud, Pey La Tour and 15 October for Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac.).

In every case, the Merlot is beautifully ripe, rich in tannins and highly coloured. Lovely balance is characterised by relatively low levels of malic acidity but higher pH levels than in 2014.

Volumes are also looking good. The first tastings revealed very good to magnificent quality Merlot across all our estates, and it’s not over yet!”

Heading for record finishing dates?

“The Petit Verdot ripened as expected on the early-ripening gravel soils. Harvesting took place 12 October at Chateau La Garde and Chateau Le Boscq. Watch this space for the other chateaux…

As to the Cabernets… They have continued and still continue to ripen slowly but surely. There was absolutely no point rushing to harvest for fear of being penalised with a slightly harsh edge to the pronounced tannic structure. Only the early-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon at Chateau Rahoul and Cabernet Franc at Chateau Reysson arrived in the winery 8 and 11 October respectively.

We start this week the Cabernet Franc at Chateau Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac and Cabernet Sauvignon in the remaining Dourthe vineyards, which include extensive plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank. The Indian summer is drawing to a close but since the weather is still mild and the vines in perfect health, just like with the Merlot, we are in a position to wait for optimum ripeness before harvesting.”

To be continued…

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