Healthy harvest for Bordeaux grapes despite frost

A winemaker with grapes in a vineyard in Blaye near Bordeaux, south-western France, last month.
A winemaker with grapes in a vineyard in Blaye near Bordeaux, south-western France, last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • The frost did deliver a nasty bite, but Bordeaux winemakers in France have reason to raise a toast too.

They managed to harvest healthy, ripe grapes this year even after the worst frost in a quarter-century hit vineyards in April and significantly reduced the amount available for bottling, according to vintners interviewed this month.

Chateau Angelus, a Saint Emilion estate whose bottles have been featured in James Bond films and top vintages sell for US$500 (S$680), indicated earlier this year that up to 20 per cent of plots devoted to its main wine had been affected by frost.

Now, it estimates that the drop in output is 15 per cent.

The estate is "happy in terms of quality", owner Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal said.

"We had very healthy conditions for the grapes. There is no comparison with 2015 or 2016", a reference to the past two critically acclaimed vintages in the region, "but it may be close in style to 2014".

Across the country, French winemakers will produce the smallest vintage in 60 years, with the spring frost in Bordeaux and elsewhere, combining with summer storms causing rot in Champagne and drought shrivelling grape bunches further south.

While frost reduces the quantity of grapes available for winemaking, it does not necessarily affect the quality of those that escape damage.

Bordeaux producers have noted that one of the most memorable vintages of the last century, 1945, was also badly hit by cold spring weather.

Production of the main Angelus wine, normally around 100,000 bottles, will this year be between 80,000 and 85,000 bottles, Ms de Bouard-Rivoal said. 

"We consider ourselves as fairly lucky in this environment," she said. "It's important to put things in perspective."

At Clos Fourtet, a vineyard on the edge of the mediaeval town of Saint Emilion, about 25 per cent of the grapes were lost to frost, with small berries and lower-than-usual yields contributing to an overall decline of about 40 per cent in volume produced, noted Mr Matthieu Cuvelier, whose family owns the property.

Interviewed at a London tasting of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux trade group, he added that this year was "a ripe vintage" with "a lot of freshness" while describing it as "less concentrated than 2015 and 2016".

Over at Chateau La Gaffeliere, on lower-lying terrain below the town, output will be down about 30 per cent, but "quality is good", said sales director Thomas Soubes.

The classed-growth estates, producers of Bordeaux's more expensive wines, typically have their vineyards on favourable slopes or close to the Gironde estuary, with less exposure to frost than many smaller producers in flatter, low-lying areas that were harder hit by the cold snap.

At Chateau Gruaud Larose in Saint Julien, commercial manager Arnaud Frederic said the estate had only half a hectare, out of a total of 82ha, affected by frost.

And further north at Chateau Cos Labory in Saint Estephe, manager Bernard Audoy said the estate had escaped frost and had made "a good harvest".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Healthy harvest for Bordeaux grapes despite frost'. Print Edition | Subscribe