Châteaux owners and their managers informed us that crop levels were reduced by 30-100% in some areas, mainly on the right bank, Entre-deux-mers and the Graves. Here some vineyards suffered from late Spring frosts and others were hit with hail during harvest, including Châteaux Climens, Haut Bergey and Fieuzal, who made no wine at all. However, this is not like the 1991 or 1956 vintages when the frost damage was widespread. There are many success stories as well.
The better performers were clearly those who sorted their harvests with a rigorous selection of ripe berries followed by careful winemaking practices, such as gentle macerations, tannin management and judicious use of oak. There was no room for error in this terroir driven vintage. The best red wines have a transparency akin to the 2008 and 2014's. They display deep colours, ripe phenolics, high acidities and comparatively lower alcohols than in recent years (12.5-12.7% for the reds and 12-13% for the whites).
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines in the northern Médoc were largely unscathed, especially from great terroirs on the banks of the Garonne. Most achieved normal 37-45 hl/ha yields. There were several shining examples from Pauillac, St Julien, Margaux and St Estephe. Some sites in the Péssac that escaped frost and hail also made some very fine wines. On the right bank, the most notable successes came from the Pomerol plateau where the Merlots were hardly affected.
The best dry white wines tend to have fresh, intense citrus aromas and fleshy fruit from Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle grapes picked in late August, just before the September rains. This was a superb vintage for Sauternes with reasonable yields from botrytised bunches picked late into October. The best are full bodied with layers of opulent fruit and balanced acidities.
To be a successful ‘en primeur’ campaign, the release prices need to be realistic to justify any investment. We hope that those with depleted yields won't be raising prices to cover their losses. Others with normal yields from great terroirs have, in most instances, produced well made wines with even a few achieving the finesse and depth of their 2015 and 2016s.
The 2017 vintage will go down in history as a fine vintage to be consumed over the mid-term. The best are not the biggest wines but classically structured, medium bodied with moderate alcohols, subtle fresh fruit behind their terroir expressions, high acidities and textured ripe tannins.
There are many exciting wines to offer that will be worth buying and others that won’t meet our criteria. Our favourites will be offered on release, complete with notes and scores.