The harvest of 2017 will stay in the collective memories of France’s vineyards for some time – let’s hope this is an extreme year, as opposed to the new normal. As a country this is France’s smallest vintage since 1945 and we all know it was tiny then, because there were few men left to work the fields as the country was ravaged by war.
This year the weather has played havoc with most regions’ production, with late frosts, hailstorms, extreme heat and very little rain. In Provence we also suffered frost, following from summer-like Easter weather, which had encouraged the vines to go into growth mode, only for the tender shoots to be frozen with negative temperatures. I can honestly say I have never seen such instant destruction of so many vineyards hopes and dreams in one go. Driving through the fields of brown shoots when the warm sunshine was back a few days later was torture for us, never mind for those poor farmers who actually owned them.
For those who escaped the frost the drought came hot on its heels. Provence has had less rain than anyone can remember, even the old folk cannot recall such a sustained period without rain. We pretty much had 5 months in Cotignac without any precipitation and this situation is still ongoing. The rivers are dry, fully grown trees are dying and I am only amazed at the vine’s resillience and ability to produce a juicy grape nevertheless. At the same time as no rain we also had a summer characterised by extreme heat and long periods of Mistral winds, which, yes you guessed it, dried out the countryside even more. And then the wildfires raged for most of the very hot season.
The effect is predictable and widespread, namely overall production is between 15 -25% below normal levels, depending on the area, and whether growers have access to emergency irrigation (which is allowed during extreme weather events). On the upside the grapes harvested this year are of very good quality and there was next to no disease in the vineyards, as most classic diseases don’t thrive in dry, windy conditions (it’s even too much for the bugs and fungi).
For Mirabeau the positive news was that most of our growers had sidestepped the frost and have access to water from the Canal de Provence flowing through the valley of the St Victoire, but the overall shortage has led to intense competition for the wine that was left. Our long standing relations with our principal growers would stand us in good stead, but we had to fight off the biggest brands of Provence to be able to chose early and purchase the wines we required to make another award winning vintage. Sadly the costs for base wines have increased, especially the best ones we’re after, so our costs have increased also. We have worked hard to be efficient elsewhere to try to mitigate the effects but are able to neutralise only a part of the increase. We weren’t prepared to make any concessions on quality to be able to lower the price and the wines should turn out as reliably beautiful as you have come to expect and still punch well above their relative price points.
We started blending mid October. Due to the extreme competition this resembled a speed dating exercise and so we engaged in very intense sessions to be able to chose most of our wines within 72 hours. Any delay and we risked losing precious stock that would be irreplaceable. Nathalie’s brilliant brain worked overtime as she mentally tried the blends for our different cuvées before putting them together in practice for further tweaking.
The wines will now be given a little time to develop further before we assemble them and bottle them progressively over the next few weeks. We will write detailed tasting notes per wine in our next newsletter to give you a much better idea of this year’s vintage characteristics, but trust us it’s a good one.
Thank you as always for your interest and support and we really hope you will love this new vintage at least as much, or maybe even more than the last. We know that you have an ever increasing choice and are grateful for your loyalty, which has enabled us to keep doing what we love the most.