It is 28th September and usually the harvest would be just about to start in Bordeaux.
This year most producers have their grapes already in the vats transforming and gurgling away and producing wonderful raspberry aromas that fill the region’s wineries. The sun is still shining despite wettish periods in September. We could not say it has been the usual Indian Summer that all producers dream of, the final sunny topping off of the berries.
Yet something is amiss. There are flurries of activity here and there. Many are still waiting to harvest, checking every day that the small bunches still on the vines are staying healthy despite the autumnal weather that has started to arrive.
It is a harvest of two halves. The lucky have vineyards that were not burnt by the late April frost (normally on higher ground) and harvest has continued ‘as normal’. The wine, in the middle of its fermenting, is fragrant and juicy with soft silky tannins.
The year started very early with a hot spring which started growth 2 weeks early. There was a heatwave in June and early July was sunny but August, needed normally get the heat up and boost ripening was cloudy and grey (more springlike than summer!).
There was not a lot of rain this year, so the grapes are not too large and there is nice structure from the high skin to juice ratio. The grapes are in a healthy state with very little rot. The skins are relatively thick. The vines never though attained the crucial point of dryness where there is a switch of the sugars produced in its leaves, from vegetative growth to focusing uniquely on the grapes. You can see this from the light green new leaves at the top of the rows.
It is a fresher year than the last two blockbusters of 2015 and 2016, with perfumed notes and smooth tannins (ripe phenols in the skins). The malic acid has remained quite high though. So that is all the good news.
So what happened to the vines that were scorched by the deadly frost at the end of April. Some vines were partially affected and this enabled a secondary flowering on the same vine with grapes with potential for ripening two to three weeks after the first wave of ripening. This is where we are today. Some producers have had to explain to their pickers which bunches to pick first and leave the smaller rounder bunches which are far from being ready (still green stalks). Will they ever become ripe enough to be picked at some point before the autumn storms bring an end to the season or will they rot before they are ripe?
Some vineyards badly affected by the frost only have the odd little unripe grape bunches. It took weeks for the vines to even start to recover after suffering their trauma (made worse as they were in advance and in full vegetative flow). Little by little the green shoots and new leaves replaced the brown burnt vegetation and there was hope again.
They are smaller and few and far between so is it worth the expense of picking?
But for many of these war-scarred vines, they never recovered enough to re-flower. Without flowers, there is no chance of fruit. So there are thousands of hectares where there is no harvest this year. Nature gives and nature takes away. Until all the grapes are in in 2017 we will not know how cruel she really was this year. Years with a seven are never very lucky in Bordeaux…