2017 was a year of contrasts – some very friendly growing conditions and some assuredly malevolent weather – a sometimes chaotic growing season, sometimes friendly. It could hardly be any other way when you consider the large geography of the region. Many think of 2017 as a hot and dry vintage, but only August and September had less rain than the average – but from mid-August the weather was fine, indeed September had more sun than an average August!
2017 was a vintage with frost in the south, hail in the north, high temperatures and a strong sun everywhere. The conditions were ideal to start, it was a lovely Spring and a fine flowering followed – there was a good fruit set and the potential for quite a big harvest – those who avoided the three main ‘issues’ of the vintage, did indeed make more wine than usual – if only modestly so – unlike some places in 2018.
This was a vintage with virtually no mildew – indeed a low pressure from maladies in general. It was another early vintage with harvesting starting, in some places, in August, though most began their harvest in the first week of September – there would have been many more August ‘starts’ if it hadn’t been for the temporary blockage that was a response by those vines to the hail they experienced or also in response to the dry heat of the last weeks of summer.
Let’s look at these three main factors:
In 2017, much of France suffered from frost, the Côte d’Or may have – by the kin of its teeth – avoided it, but Chablis to the north and Beaujolais to the south were impacted. In Beaujolais the crus largely avoided the frost, though some of the higher vines – say 400 metres high were touched. It was the south of Beaujolais, Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais Villages that felt the force of the frost – from lightly touched to 100% losses. Whilst some individual domaines were badly hit, on average, it was more of a positive factor for quality – reducing potentially high yields – delivering wines of concentration and quality.
In both 2016 and 2017 it was the same areas that had hail – Fleurie was the epicentre but Régnié, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Chiroubles and Chénas were hit too – it was a hail that ‘favoured’ the crus! Some places endured hail three times during the growing season – on the 10th July it was a veritable tornado that effectively sand-blasted the vines. In the places hit by hail in 2016, the 2017 pruning took twice as long, because of that, some vignerons describe 2017 as a recovery vintage – “Even before the hail there was still only about 30 hl/ha on the vines…” said Cyril Chirouze of the Château des Jacques.
The hail ensured that there were 100% losses in some places. “I expected maladies after the hail but it was very dry and hot the days that followed, and I give thanks to the vibrating triage table for doing a sorting of dry grapes that probably wasn’t possible manually. Overall we lost over 60% of our grapes compared to a normal year” – Cyril again. Another vigneron with vines in the crus told me that it was “The first time in my years here that 2/3rd of the vines were hit by the hail. The vibrating table for triage was essential for separating the grapes with impacts from the good, clean, grapes – it worked well.”
The more modest volume of grapes – post-hail – ensured easy ripening, though there was some delay due to blockage of ripening for a couple of weeks after the hail. Fortunately for the growers, in 2017 the leaves and fruit were hit, but there wasn’t the same stark effect on the wood of the vines, so the pruning for 2018 was not significantly affected – though your mileage will vary depending on the location of a particular domaine’s vines.
The heat and dryness of the vintage assured the growers of a very clean growing season and harvest – at least for those that weren’t hailed – as there was practically no mildew/rot/porriture et-cetera. This dryness certainly delayed some of the ripening, and perhaps in some places there was more an aspect of maturity by concentration, rather than by actual physical ripening. For many, fortunately, there was some rain to re-equilibriate the vines before harvest – but it was a patchwork of rain and not everywhere. In the cooler, schist, terroirs of Julienas, for instance, there were few dried grapes here – but the dryness, despite a little late arriving rain, did ensure that the amount of juice was relatively low.
The volumes at harvest:
Sources: InterBeaujolais, via SIQOCERT, via the ODG(s)
Many producers invoke some combination of 2015 and 2016 when describing their 2017s, in the south for Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages they also invoke similarities to 2009. 2016 and 2017 have some commonalities because they didn’t have the hot nights that everyone experienced in 2015, hence, the 2017s held onto their acidity quite well. The wines have plenty of structure though – in some cases a level that might rival 2015 – but generally the tannins are a little more supple than in 2015 and the fruit is more the fresher, less spiced, style of 2016 than 2015.
These are wines of good power – comparable to 2015 – and they show plenty of balance, generally with a little less alcohol than in 2015 but also a little more acidity, in fact it’s a super acidity when you consider that many of the the wines were 13-14° natural! For the individual wines, you should, of-course, refer to the individual producer visits, but I do finish this report with a ‘list!’
- Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages: I consider this a great vintage for first rungs on the hierarchy – these wines are simply as good as I’ve ever tasted – unsurprisingly the BJ and BJV Nouveau also in 2017 – if you have any left!
- Beaujolais Blanc: You will know (if you have read my Beaujolais notes for the last few years) that this label struggles to please me; I often find a hardness to the aromatic and structure – call it a type of minerality, if you will – but I usually find only 1 in 10 interesting enough to drink. In 2017 it’s not like that. Like most regions of Burgundy in 2017 (see 2017 Chablis too) there’s an approachability to these wines that I’ve not previously found. I’m not saying that it’s now a great source of drinking, but there are certainly more than 1 in 10 that interest me in 2017!
- The Crus: Largely it’s a question of where did, and did not, have hail. There are relatively few domaines where I would recommend Fleurie – sad for them – and it’s quite hard for Moulin à Vent and Régnié too. Morgon is, on average, better, but Juliénas, St.Amour, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly offer very many outstanding wines. Yet even in the predominantly hailed areas are wines of brilliance – the result of painstaking triage – just many fewer than in the other ‘crus.’
Because everyone loves lists:
Of-course the relative position of respective domaines in their elevage has an effect on how brilliantly – or not – their wines show, but in 2017, from 45 domaines visited and 303 wines tasted, here are my top dozen wines from 2017:
|Claire et Fabien Chasselay, Beaujolais La Platière|
|Girin, Beaujolais Côteaux du Razet Vieilles-Vignes|
|Longère, Beaujolais Villages “Jarre”|
|Monternot – Les Jumeaux, Beaujolais Villages Vieilles-Vignes|
|Paul Janin, Brouilly|
|Daniel Bouland, Côte de Brouilly|
|Thivin, Côte de Brouilly Cuvée Zaccharie|
|Thillardon, Chénas Chassignol|
|Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie Griffe du Marquis|
|Jean-Marc Burgaud, Morgon Côte du Py ‘James’|
|Jean Foillard, Morgon Côte de Py|
|Château des Jacques, Moulin à Vent Clos du Thorins|