Dourthe 2017 harvest gets underway

With the go-ahead signalled on 28th August, picking commenced at Chateau Rahoul, Graves on a parcel of Sauvignon. “After the April frosts, it has been a fairly challenging year so far, requiring relentless work in the vineyard which constantly kept us on our toes. Further to long weeks of meticulous work, it is with confidence and a watchful eye that we now face the harvest”. Frederic Bonnaffous, Director, Vignobles Dourthe, guides us through the seasons for an insight into the 2017 vintage as it unfurls.


Winter will be remembered for significant water deficit, and remarkably warm temperatures despite the cold spell in January. According to Meteo France, the country saw the warmest March since 1957.

In these mild temperatures, the first buds appeared the third week in March, on the clay and warmer soils alike; on 20th March at Château Pey La Tour in Entre-deux-Mers and 22nd March at Château Le Boscq in Saint-Estèphe.

At this stage, good, even bud burst signalled an early vintage. And in these mild conditions, plant growth was vigorous, with the vineyard already green by mid-April, with signs of the new grapes already clearly visible.


However, frosts on the nights of 20th, 27th and 28th April brought an abrupt end to this positive stretch and only a few appellations were spared.

The impact on the Dourthe vineyards varied from one vineyard to the next; while Chateau Le Boscq and Chateau La Garde managed to avoid frost damage or were only slightly affected, the estates in Saint-Emilion suffered some losses, with reduced volumes almost inevitable.

Mild weather in May promoted new growth on the frost-damaged vines, and abundant, yet generally non-fruiting shoots. To avoid exhausting the weakened vines, work in the vineyard was long and tiring, including several rounds of desuckering to promote the growth of axillary buds together with systematically removing any secondary grape bunches to allow the few remaining original bunches to flourish. Our work was also guided with an eye to shaping the 2018 harvest.

Meanwhile the frost-free vines continued to develop normally. Early flowering on 18th May at Château la Garde in Pessac-Leognan and 24th May at Château de Ricaud in Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux, took full advantage of a dry and sunny May and grew rapidly. To our great relief, this tricky period went well.


June and early July saw heatwave conditions alternate with heavy rain, which significantly accelerated veraison. This was clearly visible in the Merlot from July 14th on the gravel soils of Château Le Boscq, and also began early, on 22nd July, on the later-ripening clay soils of Chateau Reysson in Haut- Médoc. Veraison in the Sauvignon at Château La Garde got underway on 17th July.

By the start of August, the frost-free vineyards were still two weeks ahead of 2017, while the more moderately affected vines even managed to claw back some of the delay. The welcome sight of very healthy grapes restored our confidence.

August was defined by hot days and cooler, damp spells. The weather suited both red and white grapes alike: relentlessly hot days followed by cool nights accelerated ripening while retaining the natural acidity in the fruit


In early August, the Sauvignon grapes at Château La Garde and Château Rahoul were already highly perfumed. The cool nights and less intense sunshine that followed enhanced the concentration and balance in the grapes. The vines at this stage were still around 10 days ahead of schedule.

Retaining freshness and aromatics as our utmost priority, we began to pick a parcel of Sauvignon on the gravel soils of Chateau Rahoul on 28th August. Picking is set to continue the following day at Chateau La Garde.Picked before the heat of the midday sun, the first grapes are just as we hoped, and are fleshy, delicious and fresh.

The red grapes are also looking early. In the case of the Merlot grapes, which have developed rapidly amid excellent conditions, harvesting should commence mid-September, closely followed by the Cabernets and Petit Verdot.

Stay tuned for the first update on the white wines, which we will share as soon as the Sauvignon and Semillon harvest is complete.

Frédéric Bonnaffous.