The 2017 harvest in Burgundy was a story of better fortunes and welcome relief from the trials and tribulations experienced the previous year. It’s true that wine-growing Europe suffered widespread spring frosts in 2017 which seriously affected producers—but for once, they were generally not Burgundy producers.
It began with the Burgundy vineyards in a fairly precarious position—the mild winter meant that the cold temperatures in late April came as a surprise, and for a fortnight they barely rose above freezing.
Chablis—that most long-suffering of regions—almost saw its right-bank decimated for another year after three particularly hard and frosty nights. For the remainder of Burgundy, their survival meant renewed strength and determination to succeed this time. But April 27th brought bad news—a year and a day after the frost that nearly wiped out the 2016 harvest, the whole of the Cote d’Or was predicted to get another severe chilling.
But the horrors of 2016 lived long in the memory of producers and this time they were ready with preventative measures. Burgundy awoke on the 28th to a thick, smoky dawn. Overnight, bales of damp hay had been lit, to ward off the frost and send a smouldering message to Mother Nature that the vines would not be taken again. And though the smog masked the sun’s rays, still we could see that the harvest had been saved.
The fires brought new danger in other ways though—driving was perilous, the mood was one of relief and jocularity, with butchers’ shops being asked for cuts of smoked meat. The authorities may not have liked it, but that night something solidified in our local community spirits—through the adversity, something was forged, and that togetherness has endured ever since.
Warm, dry air blew in with May, and the spectre of mildew and odium no longer haunted the lands. Neither were hail or thunderstorms seen. With such an ideal combination of conditions—warm sun and just the right amount of rain—the vines flowered as nature intended in the first week of June.
We had a hot July (some heat spikes and a hail storm in Morey St Denis) and August was warm—and the first few grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune at month end. Nearly everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
The eternal question of when to pick always makes for animated discussions. Those in the ‘early’ camp argue it preserves the freshness and acid-sugar balance. Those who argue for late picking say that hanging on for wetter conditions encourages photosynthesis and that holy grail of wine producing—phenolic maturity.
Who can say who was right in 2017, but both camps produced good wines—and some less good ones, too. Those who picked early got fresh, fruity wines with good minerality. Some of the wines that didn’t turn out quite right were rather tart and dry. Those who picked later were rewarded with extra phenols, nice and mature, which gave denser wines with riper tannins.
White wines of 2017 - these really shine, especially in hard-done-by Chablis where many argue there’s a better balance of flavor than even the great 2014 vintage. And beyond Chablis, the white wines of other Burgundy regions have a wonderful tension to them, and something of the open charm of 2015. Among those worth seeking out are the Domaine Oudin Chablis from this year which really peaked in 2017 and will still be at that point, even several years on now. (Their ‘Les Serres’ bottles have already sold out). Then there’s the Domaine Borgeot Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru 'Chenevottes' (extremely bright with citric acidity and finely-chiselled floral aromas), and Domaine Jean Fery Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru 'Les Vergelesses'—an eye-catcher, with a greeny-gold hint, fresh, elegant fruit notes with spice tones and a hint of honey and flinty smokiness. Another great 2017 Premier Cru is found in the Chateau Cary Potet Montagny 1er Cru 'Les Burnins'—the wines of Montagny are among the best value in white Burgundy. With a unique and dusty minerality that many compare to a suave left-bank Chablis, they also profit from their southern position, so ripeness and maturity yield seductive and charming Chardonnay.
Red wines of 2017 are juicy and crisp. The best appellations will be given the label ‘typical’, and that’s no negative sentiment; these are classic wines that Burgundians themselves will take pleasure in. Maybe they have sometimes been outshone by wines since, but they still have their defenders and rightly so. 2017 was a good year for good wine—take the Domaine Pierre Thibert Nuits St. Georges—complete through the mid-palate with a long finish on cherry fruit and structure. For a Premier Cru, why not seek out the Domaine Albert Boillot Pommard 1er Cru 'En Largilliere'—a relatively unknown Premier Cru but one that is well worth your cellar space! And finally, for those wanting to try a Grand Cru from the 2017 Vintage, look no further than the Capitain-Gagnerot Echezeaux Grand Cru; Grand Cru Echezeaux is mythical and rare, and in the right hands (such as in this case) it can reach near perfection.
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