Finally Burgundy gets a bit of good fortune with a new vintage that is good in both quality and quantity. Corney & Barrow’s Burgundy buyer Guy Seddon talks through how the 2017 vintage developed over the year for all the producers whose wines they are offering in this new release. He also highlights two trends – how a lightness of touch is the watchword for tannin extraction in red wines, and also the greater proliferation of whole bunch, or whole-cluster vinification for reds in 2017.
We may end up drinking the reds from 2017 before those from 2015 and 2016
The winter of 2016-17 was cool and sunny, with less rainfall than average. By the third week of March, buds were swollen throughout the Côte d’Or, heralding a rapid and early bud break from 20th March, amid warm temperatures. The first fortnight of April saw temperatures exceed 25°C, further hastening the development of the vines. However, the weather changed dramatically at mid-month, temperatures dipping below zero. The result was frost in Chablis on 18th and 19th April. Our Chablis producer Vincent Dampt saw the mercury drop to -5°C and lost 30% of his crop as a result, despite valiant efforts with oil heaters and candles in the vineyards.
Freezing temperatures visited the Côte d’Or on the nights of 27th and 29th April, although frost damage was avoided thanks to a remarkably coordinated effort, in which bales of hay were set alight by vignerons along the length of the Côte. The resulting haze of smoke prevented a repeat of 2016’s frost damage, whereby the sun’s rays had ‘burnt’ the frozen grapes as they lay encased in ice on the vine. (The local Gendarmerie has warned against making a habit of this however – apparently billowing clouds of smoke are not conducive to safe driving on the nearby A6 autoroute – so growers may need a new trick in future…)
More clement weather returned in May and by month-end, leaves were unfurling and flowering was underway, lasting almost a week. June continued warm, with the first bunches achieving closure around the 20th, putting the season on a similar trajectory to 2009. Some much-needed rain fell in July, alleviating the hydric stress that was beginning to tighten its grip on some vines. In Beaujolais, two episodes of hail, on 10th and 30th July, severely impacted the harvest, resulting in overall losses of over two thirds at Domaine Lafarge Vial. The first of these also struck the Mâconnais.
By mid-August, véraison (when black grapes acquire their colour, signalling the beginning of ripeness) was almost finished in the Côte d’Or, at which point temperatures decreased a notch, allowing for a smooth controlled descent into harvest during the final weeks of the season. It is interesting to compare the harvest dates of the producers whose wines we are offering in this release. First out of the blocks was Olivier Lamy, who started picking in Saint-Aubin on 25th August.
Next was Domaine Lafarge Vial’s Côte de Brouilly down in Beaujolais, on 30th August, followed over the successive four days by Clos de Tart, Lafarge’s Clos du Château des Ducs and Comte Georges de Vogüé. Over 100km to the north, Vincent Dampt started picking the week after, on 5th September. The first two weeks of September saw the bulk of the Côte picked, with Gilles Jourdan sneaking into the following week, beginning on the 18th. Finally, after short Burgundy vintages since 2009, and just as we were beginning to search for a new concept of ‘normal’, volumes produced are back to the ‘old normal’ in the Côte d’Or. Chablis (30% lost) and Beaujolais (70% lost) are another story, and we commiserate once again with our growers in those regions. For the rest, we can’t wait to get started with these 2017s. They are showing brilliantly already.
As for vinification, two trends are worth mentioning. Firstly, lightness of touch is the watch-word for tannin extraction in red wines, many producers seeming to favour pumping-over as their primary tool, with minimal punching-down, or pigeage. Levels of new oak are also on the wane, Olivier Lamy using just 0-5% new oak in 2017 – bad news for barrel salesmen – although others, such as Henri Darnat and Gilbert Hammel of Domaine de Varoilles, are not averse to it.
Secondly, levels of so-called whole bunch, or whole-cluster vinification for reds were relatively high in 2017. This gradual increase is a trend, perhaps led by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and now that the late Henri Jayer’s avid avoidance of it subsides. For every proponent of whole bunch handling among our producers (François Labet and Charles Lachaux), there is a counter-example (Frédéric Lafarge and, in 2017, Domaine de l’Arlot), with others navigating a middle course (Jacques Prieur’s Nadine Gublin).
2017 looks set to be a good to very good year, in which it was key to have tempered the natural exuberance of the vines following the short crop in 2016. The whites have a particular verve and energy, not unlike 2014 or even 2010, whilst the reds have a sweet-fruited clarity and perfume which makes them a joy to taste young. We may end up drinking the reds from 2017 before those from 2015 and 2016, but this is by no means a quality assessment: there is ample ageing potential here and a lot of enjoyment for the years to come.
Keep your eyes peeled for the full Burgundy 2017 offer.
Corney & Barrow is a supplier partner of The Buyer. You can read more about the company here