2017 Sauternes Vintage Update

The terrible frosts of last April did not spare Sauternes and especially Barsac. At 40-50cm, the foliage was too far out and much of it froze right down to the stems, leaving little possibility for a counter-bud. Barsac and the lower areas of Sauternes were the worst hit: Xavier lost 85% at Myrat; Climens made just 35 barrels, none of which will be Cyprès let alone Grand Vin; Arche made just 300 hectolitres from their 50 hectares; La Tour Blanche have a meagre 50 barrels (6 ho/ha); Coutet’s 8 ho/ha came only from the patch at the heart of the vineyard, the rest totally wiped out. Yet, as always with frosts, some fared better: Rayne Vigneau and Sigalas Rabaud have almost normal yields.

Tasting with Laurier Giradot at Coutet

Then May and June turned incredibly hot and dry, bringing on a perfect early flowering for the few remaining bunches, followed by a good summer (August hotter than July). By mid-August the grapes that had survived April were golden and getting very ripe very early. Then the weather started to change on 27th, bringing half of August’s 30mm rainfall in the last few days, followed by a succession of windless, cloudy, drizzly days over the first half of September which naturally were good for the onset of the much awaited rot. However it wasn’t just noble rot: there was a lot of “pourriture aigre” mixed in with it which, as in 1997, had to be removed quickly, especially when the temperatures went right up at the end of the month. But the good stuff was great as a basis and accounted for a small first pick over these final days of September.

October went on to be amazingly dry and warm, interspersed with vital periods of very cool nights which were to “seal” the next generations of noble rot into ever-increasing concentration. In fact, most of the worries now were about how to actually reduce the sugars, as there were no longer any golden grapes left with which to temper them. So the final lots ended up incredibly rich.

Very generally, the cuvées will be composed of 1/4 – 1/3 very fresh-styled September pick and 3/4 – 2/3 of the much more concentrated October picks. In this sense the wines are similar to that other “beginning and end vintage” 1998, but in a racey and more fruit-driven way, with more of the balance of a 2010 and more of the density of a 2003. There’s not going to be much of it, but what there is will be excellent, especially for those who don’t like their Sauternes very sweet and not too heavy.

Finally, spare a thought for those who had too few grapes left, either from the April frosts or the September aigre to take advantage of these fabulous October conditions: Climens from the frost and Daniel Alibrand at Domaine de l’Alliance deciding in September not to risk more aigre and harvesting his whole vineyard as excellent dry wine at 40 ho/ha rather than attempting to make just a few ho/ha of Sauternes.

Tasting with Frédéric Nivelle in a nearly empty cellar at Climens

More later when the wines have all finished fermenting and settled down.


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Tags: Chateau Climens, Chateau Coutet

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