Bordeaux Vintage 2017 – explaining Heterogeneous

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Paradise Rescued talented organic vigneronne will be tested to the max with ‘heterogeneous’ Bordeaux Vintage 2017.

Bordeaux Vintage 2017 is very challenging. This season Mother Nature is absolutely in control and has delivered some pretty nasty weather shocks along the way so far. Which may explain why the media and blog pages from Bordeaux’s vineyards are rather quiet. With good reason, this section of bad news does not sell so well.

Whenever I talk with our team Paradise Rescued in Cardan Bordeaux about what’s happening with Vintage 2017, the reply is consistent. “It’s heterogeneous, heterogeneous!”

Ok, so we all understand that heterogeneous is the opposite of homogeneous. But what exactly does this mean for our harvest and Vintage 2017 overall in Bordeaux?

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised that 2017 is such a challenging year. Bordeaux, for whatever natural reason, has a habit of producing consecutive pairs of good vintages and there are typically two good pairs in every decade long cycle. 2015 and 2016 were good vintages for almost all producers. But now Mother Nature has taken back her control over the vineyards.

Paradise Rescued is home to the Bordeaux 100% varietal Cabernet Franc B1ockOne

In those good vintages, most often the growth is generally homogeneous. In simple terms, all the development stages of the vine and fruit production come together at pretty much the same time in the vineyard – bud burst, flowering, fruit set, growth, colour change, ripening – the full load! In homogeneous successful vintages, everybody normally wins across the spectrum of producers from big to small.

In heterogeneous seasons, it’s very much the opposite. Almost all parts of the cycle are happening at different times in the same vineyard and often on the same vine! The growth phases on each individual vine, even each bud, are inconsistent and not in time. Add in the extreme natural weather effects of a severe hard late frost at the end of April (which somehow thankfully but narrowly missed us), followed by heavy rain then a heatwave and a further 220mm one week deluge and that inconsistency is magnified several times over.

To make good wine, you need great fruit. Despite the urban myth of “flying winemaker gurus”, it all starts (and pretty much ends) in the vineyard. Without good ingredients, the recipe for good wine is compromised! The net result of ‘heterogeneous’ is that the fruit is at different phases of its development with maybe a two to three week difference in maturity between the most forward and least advanced bunches. The big risk therefore is at harvest time where, depending on the ‘compromise’ date selected, some fruit may be over ripe and another part badly lacking in sugar and flavour.

Healthy 60 year old Merlot vine loaded with young fruit at Paradise Rescued Cardan Bordeaux

The “at best” solution is watch the development of each vine and its fruit and to de-select / cut off those grape bunches that will not ripen sufficiently. And to hand cut (and most probably re-select at the triage table) the ripest fruit as best one can. To make good Bordeaux wine in vintage 2017 will require skilful hands-on work in the vineyard and no holidays this August for the vineyard team! The advantage is with artisan small producers, such as Paradise Rescued, using a traditional hand-crafted detailed approach.

#BordeauxWine Vintage 2017 will be a vigneron’s vintage. Assuming that Mother Nature doesn’t have some other trick in her clouds… after all the other stunts she has pulled this year.

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