The southern swath of France's Rhône Valley has been on a roll, with superlative vintages in terms of both quality and quantity in 2015 and 2016. 2017 looks to continue that trend on one count: quality.
"The quality of the grapes was perfect, with both ripeness and freshness," says Jean-Paul Daumen of Domaine de la Vieille Julienne in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. "But the yields are very, very low. About 50 percent less."
As in the northern portion of the valley, the season got off to an early start, jumpstarted by a mild winter and postcard-perfect April. May turned colder however, with some heavy rains during the flowering period that resulted in a high level of coulure (shatter) on the region's primary red grape, Grenache.
"The vineyards were pushing crazy fast during the flowering, because of that spring. Then the rain and cold really brought a lot of coulure," says Julien Barrot of Domaine La Barroche in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Yields were down between 30 to 65 percent or more depending on the sector, with Gigondas hit particularly hard.
"We were unfortunately in the part of the appellation most damaged by the coulure, and we finished with 45 percent less than in 2016," says Julien Bréchet of Domaine des Bosquets in Gigondas. "The result was [0.6 to 0.9 tons per acre]. We could choose to harvest quite early, but ripe, because there was no problem for the ripening with that yield. Maturities were perfect, with no stress."
The rain petered out by early June, and from there the season was warm and dry, with no rain until mid-November. The result was ideal growing conditions for the grape bunches that did eventually form, with vines situated on clay soils performing best (due to their water retention).
"We had [5.4 inches] of rain during the six months of vegetative cycle, and the average is [12 inches]," says Frédéric Coulon of Domaine de Beaurenard in Châteauneuf. "But no real stress in the vineyard in general. Veraison was early and the maturation cycle was fine."
The season continued to run early through harvest, with most picking done by the end of September. Ripening was even and easy, thanks in part to the reduced crop load.
"The average yield [for us] will be around [1.6 tons per acre]," says Marc Perrin of Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf. "Grenache was down 50 percent, Syrah 20 percent, Mourvèdre was normal. The harvest was extremely healthy and the quality of the grapes was top. Sorting was not really necessary in this vintage. Great color and good acidity. The wines are very balanced, very elegant with some sweetness of tannins but no feeling of heat."