End of Harvest 17 at Dourthe
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The 2017 harvest has now come to a close in the Dourthe Vineyards.
Chateau Pey La Tour completed the red grape harvest with the very last Merlot picked on 6th October, while the remaining Semillon affected by noble rot and destined for the appellation Loupiac were sorted on 9th October at Chateau de Ricaud.

“Precision and responsiveness are for me the two words which best encapsulate this vintage”, explains Frederic Bonnaffous. “To express the true character of the vintage, we adopted a piece meal approach to harvesting, modifying our harvest plans and fine-tuning schedules on a daily basis, depending on the weather and profile of each vineyard block.”

After a fortnight of contrasting weather conditions, with sunshine, cool temperatures and rain, on 18th September the weather took a significant turn for the better and completed ripening in the later varietals. The good weather lasted until October, with just the right temperatures, cool nights, perfect for creating the remaining phenolic and aromatic compounds. The Merlot on clay and clay-limestone soils and the Cabernet Sauvignons thrived during this very sunny weather.

Given the mild weather and total absence of disease pressure, we were afforded the luxury of “a la carte” harvesting, leisurely selecting the optimum picking time for each parcel or micro parcel. The 2017 vintage is nevertheless considerably earlier than the seasonal average: the last Cabernets at Chateau Belgrave were harvested 3rd October, when in some years we would just be starting to pick the Merlot. To finish the reds on 6th October at Chateau Pey la Tour, on relatively late-ripening soils, two weeks ahead of schedule is extremely rare.

Rigorous selection ensured that only the ripest, fullest and premium quality fruit enters the tanks. Selection starts with the vines, removing any secondary fruit in some of the plots triggered by April frosts, and continues as the fruit is received at the winery, using high-performance selection, by optical sorting at Château Belgrave, Reysson, le Boscq and La Garde, and meticulous sorting by machine at Château Rahoul, Ricaud and Pey La Tour.

“A LA CARTE” WINEMAKING

In such a technical year, where the intervention of the growers and winemaker makes all the difference, vigilance in the winery also plays an important role. “Winemaking is tailored to each individual vineyard block to allow the potential to really shine, and promote silky, concentrated and elegant fruit” explains Frederic Bonnaffous.

Cold pre-fermentation maceration, such is the practice at Chateau Belgrave and La Garde, allow us to work with precision. Careful plunging and pumping over the cap at the start of fermentation complement the diffusion of quality tannins and anthocyanins. The length of post-fermentation maceration varies according to the profile of each cuve.

Fermentation of the reds is now complete. Racking the first wines began 9th October and is set to continue, again with this piecemeal approach, until the end of October.

“To date the Merlots are fruity, silky and full-flavoured, with deep colour and concentrated tannins. Certain parcels from the clay and clay-limestone soils are already revealing remarkable quality.”

“The rich, velvety Cabernet Sauvignon, some of which are still undergoing post-fermentation maceration, are on the whole very promising.”

With malolactic only just underway, it is too soon to draw any conclusions. However, while volumes are down in some of our estates affected by frost, we can already confirm that the quality is good, if not very good thus far.

2017 is turning out to be a vintage full of surprises.

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