A Frosty start to the Bordeaux Campaign
Just as Bordeaux began to start selling the much touted 2016 wines “en primeur”, Bordeaux as well as many other wine regions throughout Europe was hit with a devastating frost on the nights of the 26th and the 27th April when temperatures dropped to around -3°C to -4°C. If the temperature does not seem very cold, the damage was made worse because a dry and mild winter had led to buds appearing 10 to 15 days early on the vines.
This is certainly the worst frost in Bordeaux since 1991 as the Chairman of the CIVB, Allan Sichel stated in Le Point magazine. It looks as if 70% of vineyards have sustained some frost damage while almost 20% of estates have lost all or nearly their entire 2017 crop. Frost damage, which effects the buds for next year’s shoots will also have an influence on the 2018 crop size, putting the two next vintages at risk.
Luckily the plateaux of St. Emilion and Pomerol seem to have been spared so we have been relieved to find the vines at Vieux Chateau Certan, Le Pin and L’IF in St. Emilion intact. It is in the valleys, near streams and rivers, by woodland and in damper, cooler parcels that the vines were the worst hit. Areas such as the Figeac domains or the Corbin hamlet on the edge of Pomerol and St. Emilion were particularly devastated.
The frost hit all the main regions of Bordeaux; driving through inland areas of the Médoc such as Listrac and Moulis last week, it was disheartening to find hectare after hectare of brown, shriveled vines. Areas of the Graves, Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes counted as much as half of their vines ruined. Most growers are waiting until flowering occurs at the beginning of June before they can tell whether secondary buds on any surviving shoots can produce any crop this year.
The measures taken against the frost – wind turbines, smudge pots, fires, helicopters – seem to have done some good, if only to reassure the chateaux owners that something could be done to save the vines. However, old sages in the countryside say that in truth none of these methods were effective against this willful, random frost.
Before the frost, the all important Bordeaux En Primeur campaign was just getting going with very successful Chateau Cos d’Estournel coming out at the same price as its 2015. The frost drama completely halted the sales of en primeur and as I write this, only a smattering of small estates has been released since those fateful nights. One thing is for sure, with the threat of little or no crop at some estates in 2017 and reduced yields likely for 2018, producers are going to use the highly successful and abundant 2016 vintage to recoup some of their losses.
Another result of the frost is that chateaux will certainly limit the amount of wine they put onto the market as “en primeur” offerings, holding back stocks as a financial buffer. It also looks inevitable that many wines will be priced higher than initially thought in order to generate some much-needed capital to face the months ahead.
Yet, I would like to finish on a more positive note. Having tasted over 200 wines from the 2016 vintage, I find this is one of the most exciting vintages I have tasted across the board in a long time. It is fresh and lively yet powerful and rich. The fruit is bright and expressive, the acidity high, the alcohol levels lower than recent years and the tannins beautifully fine and elegant. I am still writing up all my tasting notes on the wines that we hope to offer you. It looks as if it will be well into June before all the estates have released and we can share the prices with you. However, if you would like to let us know your “wish list”, below are the wines that we hope to feature in our en primeur 2016 offering.
Please contact any of us, if you would like further information.
All the best
© Fiona Morrison M.W.