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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.
 

Chapter 2

After an early dry white harvest, it was the turn of the reds and picking began 13th September in the Dourthe Vineyards
21 September 2017

“This year we were all set in the winery very early on. For the vines not hit by frost in spring, it was already looking like an early season at flowering!” commented Frederic Bonnaffous, as he watched the first Merlot picked at Château La Garde arriving at the winery. The last Semillon musts are fermenting well, but “changeable, cool, damp weather during the second week of September left little respite between the end of the white grape harvest and the earliest-ripening Merlot. A return to more stable weather since the 18th is great news for the Merlot and later-ripening varietals.”
 

Chapter 3

Highly favourable second half of september
20 october 2017

The 2017 harvest has now come to a close in the Dourthe Vineyards.
Chateau Pey La Tour completed the red grape harvest with the very last Merlot picked on 6th October, while the remaining Semillon affected by noble rot and destined for the appellation Loupiac were sorted on 9th October at Chateau de Ricaud.

“Precision and responsiveness are for me the two words which best encapsulate this vintage”, explains Frederic Bonnaffous. “To express the true character of the vintage, we adopted a piece meal approach to harvesting, modifying our harvest plans and fine-tuning schedules on a daily basis, depending on the weather and profile of each vineyard block.”

A PROMISING START…


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.

END OF APRIL: FROST ON BORDEAUX VINEYARD


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.

SUMMER: HOT AND DRY WEATHER ALTERNATES WITH COOLER, RAINY SPELLS


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.

EARLY HARVESTS


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.

First impressions of the whites


Harvesting was early this year, from 28th August - 6th September at Château Rahoul, 29th August - 4th September at Château La Garde and 30th August - 8th September at Château de Ricaud; a record at the estate.

The high-quality, healthy berries – in the case of Sauvignon blanc and Semillon – reaped the full benefit of the hot, fine, though not heatwave, conditions. The harvest commenced under optimum conditions. “As is always the case, we harvested early in the morning in mild conditions, to promote freshness and aromas, before the higher temperatures impact the grapes.”

The grape musts were pressed under inert gas, then cold settled, and are now fermenting in stainless-steel tanks at Château de Ricaud, and in barrique at Château Rahoul and La Garde. The grapes were already tasting well on the vine, and initial tastings of the fermenting must confirm our hopes, revealing lovely balance and good aromatic intensity. Semillon, the leading varietal at Château Rahoul, offers notes of apricot and tropical fruit. The Sauvignon blanc at Château La Garde, with its lemon accent, reveals appealing freshness on the palate. “We remain very confident about the potential of these wines, of which the last parcels are completing fermentation” confided Frederic Bonnaffous

All systems go for the Merlot harvest 13th September


Tuesday, 12th September: Merlot on our estates’ earliest-ripening parcels were tasted for the last time by Frederic Bonnaffous and his team. The grapes were high in sugar, full of flavour, with refined skins and showing great quality potential. The grapes grown on well-drained gravel are now ripe, while parcels on clay or older vines can wait even longer.

The vines were in excellent health and showing advanced stages of ripeness. However, rain at the end of the week brought our planned harvest date forward by 2-3 days for the parcels of young or very early-ripening, more fragile berries, as the skins were already very refined.

The go-ahead was given to the early estates - Château Reysson, Rahoul and La Garde - on 13th September. At Château Belgrave, where a number of parcels were affected by frost, any uneven or secondary bunches were removed during meticulous sorting prior to harvesting. On arrival at the winery, this rigorous process was backed by manual sorting, followed by optical sorting. “Quality comes at a price” insists Frederic Bonnaffous, “only the best grapes enter the tanks in our winery, whatever the Château.”

Harvesting continued 14th September with young Merlot at Château Ricaud and at Château le Boscq on 15th September, the scheduled date.

With its traditionally later-ripening, clay soils, Château Pey La Tour was the last of the Dourthe estates to commence picking Merlot on 18th September, almost 10 days early compared to the average date for the estate.

“It was the right decision to harvest some of the parcels before the weekend of 16th September, which in the end turned out to be quite wet. We were slightly concerned about the cool, damp weather, but the first berries picked were very encouraging. We are going to carry out gentle extractions on the early-harvested Merlot to focus on elegance”, underlined Frederic Bonnaffous. “Good weather since 18th September is particularly beneficial to both the later-ripening Merlot and the Cabernets and Petit Verdot.”

Now we just have to wait…



After a fortnight of contrasting weather conditions, with sunshine, cool temperatures and rain, on 18th September the weather 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. The Merlot on clay and clay-limestone soils and the Cabernet Sauvignons thrived during this very sunny weather.

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 Cabernets at Chateau Belgrave were harvested 3rd October, when in some years we would just be starting to pick the Merlot. To finish the reds on 6th October at Chateau Pey la Tour, on relatively late-ripening soils, two weeks ahead of schedule is extremely rare.

Rigorous selection ensured that only the ripest, fullest and premium quality fruit enters the tanks. Selection starts with the vines, removing any secondary fruit in some of the plots triggered by April frosts, and continues 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.

“A LA CARTE” WINEMAKING


In such a technical year, where the intervention of the growers and winemaker makes all the difference, vigilance in the winery also plays an important role. “Winemaking is tailored to each individual vineyard block to allow the potential to really shine, and promote silky, concentrated and elegant fruit” explains Frederic Bonnaffous.

Cold pre-fermentation maceration, such is the practice at Chateau Belgrave and La Garde, allow us to work with precision. Careful plunging and pumping over the cap at the start of fermentation complement the diffusion of quality tannins and anthocyanins. The length of post-fermentation maceration varies according to the profile of each cuve.

Fermentation of the reds is now complete. Racking the first wines began 9th October and is set to continue, again with this piecemeal approach, until the end of October.

“To date the Merlots are fruity, silky and full-flavoured, with deep colour and concentrated tannins. Certain parcels from the clay and clay-limestone soils are already revealing remarkable quality.”

“The rich, velvety Cabernet Sauvignon, some of which are still undergoing post-fermentation maceration, are on the whole very promising.”

With malolactic only just underway, it is too soon to draw any conclusions. However, while volumes are down in some of our estates affected by frost, we can already confirm that the quality is good, if not very good thus far.

2017 is turning out to be a vintage full of surprises.




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