When temperatures dipped below freezing in late April across France, wine regions took it on the chin. The spring frost was the worst in 25 years and the resulting crop was the smallest since 1945 (see our 2017 France Harvest Report).
Bordeaux's large Entre-Deux-Mers region, lower-lying areas around St.-Emilion as well as the Graves and Sauternes areas were affected by the frost, with crop losses of 50 percent or more common. Some vintners lost the entire vintage. Other areas, including Pomerol and most of the Médoc, saw little to no damage. Overall, Bordeaux's 2017 crop is about half the normal size. But despite the considerable drop in quantity in some areas of Bordeaux, quality looks to be more than promising.
Following a dry and mild winter, the vineyards got off to an early start. Flowering was early, about 10 days ahead of 2016, said Nicolas Audebert, who manages both Châteaus Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and Canon in St.-Emilion (and is taking over at Berliquet as well).
"From there, we had ideal weather conditions that allowed a very homogeneous development of the vineyard," says Audebert. "The rest of summer was as hot as in 2016 but not as dry. The vineyard didn't suffer, and without any maturity blockage the photosynthesis continued the end of the cycle."
Managing the vineyards after the frost was relatively easy, according to most growers, as there was a clear delineation between the first and second generation of growth through the vineyard parcels.
"Parcels affected by the frost totally froze while the rest didn't freeze at all," says Eric Monneret of Château La Pointe in Pomerol. "That means that we didn't have to manage two generations of buds on the same parcel,".
Harvest of the Merlot began in early September under ideal conditions, then had to dodge some light rains in the middle of the month.
"I think that this rainfall maybe diluted the acidities but fortunately it also stopped the Merlot's alcoholic degree increase," says Diana Berrouet, winemaker at Château Petit-Village in Pomerol. "Then the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon had the time to finish the maturation and were stunning at the harvest."
"The first impressions from tasting are nicely balanced wines that have very smooth tannins and a reasonable natural alcohol level of around 13 degrees," says Laurent Fortin of Château Dauzac in Margaux. "The Merlots are pleasantly complex and extremely elegant. The Cabernet Sauvignons are mineral-driven, long and well-balanced."
White varieties, picked in late August, also performed well.
"The whites are fresh and taut, but with body and richness. There is also an impression of greater acidity," says Fabien Teitgen, winemaker at Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan.
Some producers were severely hit by the frost, though, struggling to produce any wine come harvesttime.
"The spring frost severely cut the crop, and the vegetation grew afterward in a very erratic way, making picking very complicated," said Bérénice Lurton, owner of Château Climens in Barsac. "With a small team of pickers, we had to search inside [the canopy of] each vine to try and find very little bunches. We are thus establishing the sad record of [0.15 tons per acre], and won't be able to produce any Climens [in 2017]."