The 1977 vintage in France won't be half bad after all although it will be small. The worst news for the consumer is rising prices in most areas.
Growers were glum after spring frosts decimated the crop in the western half of the country and cold, rainy weather during the flowering further reduced it. Mildew and rot set in during a rainy August and the outlook was grim.
Then the sun shone steadily throughout September and most of this month. The rot dried up and the grapes matured fairly well. Earlier expectations of a mediocre crop have been revised upwards almost everywhere.
This year's wine will not be exceptional but it will make for pleasant drinking. It will not be a wine for keeping. It can be described as average or above average quality, an overall C+ to B-, as compared with last year's B+ to A-.
The Institut National des Appellations d'Origine estimates the size of the crop at 54.2 million hectoliters compared with 73 million in 1976, including 10 million hectoliters of appellation d'origine contrôlée wines against 13 million last year.
The crop is disastrously small in Bordeaux, 2.5 million hectoliters, less than half the size of last year's 5.5 million-hectoliter harvest. Producers are holding back stocks of the last two good vintages and prices have been rising fast since the spring freeze.
According to Alexis Lichine and other trade experts, a new Bordeaux boom will lead to an even faster and longer bust than the one in 1974 that lasted until this year. Burgundy prices are also on their way up, and one can expect a general 10-per-cent rise "just to keep even with inflation," as many producers innocently put it.
The breakdown region by region:
Bordeaux, Médoc. – The picking has ended and the growers are "delighted," says Philippe Cottin, manager of Château Mouton-Rothschild. The Cabernet grapes were ripe and healthy with good color. The natural alcohol degree is about 10.5 per cent, not bad when you consider that the exceptional 1949 was only 10.8.
The wines will be much lighter in character, not for long keeping, more like the '67s and '57s. Quantity in the Médoc is, however, down by at least 30 per cent, which is bad enough but nothing compared to other areas of Bordeaux.
Graves. – Jean Delmas, manager of Châteaux Haut-Brion and Bouscaut, reports even lower quantity in the Graves. The reds are down by 40 per cent and the whites by 60 per cent from a normal crop.
The red grapes were not as ripe as might be hoped but there was good color, tannin, not excessive acidity and a natural alcohol degree of 11.5 per cent. The reds are likely to be astringent. The white grapes were healthy enough – what there was of them.
Pomerol, Saint-Emilion. – These areas are heavily planted in Merlot grapes, especially Pomerol, and this variety suffered much more from the spring frost than the Cabernets. Christian Moueix of Château Pétrus in Pomerol reports a crop only 30 per cent the size of a normal one.
The only consolation is that the small size helped what there was to ripen well with good color and adequate alcohol. The crop at Saint-Emilion is also above average in quality, but only half-size in quantity.
Burgundy. – There were no spring freezes in Burgundy according to Hubert de Montille, owner of several first growths in Volnay and Pommard, and the crop is of average size. Some rot appeared during a rainy August but fine weather in September and October dried it up. Color is good, acidity all right, but the wines lack body. Alcohol is about 11 per cent. The wines resemble the '72s with less fullness, although they appear better than the very light '73s. The Côte de Nuits is about the same as the Côte de Beaune but there is a slightly greater quantity. The whites did well in quantity but are more acid and may turn out a bit thin.
Beaujolais. – The date of release for the new wines has been put back to Nov. 25 instead of the normal Nov. 15 because of the late harvest.
According to Pierre Ferraud, a Belleville shipper who deals exclusively in Beaujolais wines, the crop will be plentiful, 1.1 million hectoliters, 150,000 more than last year. Ferraud is in no hurry to meet the new release date and he is right because the wines are certain to be better with more time.
They are aromatic, fruity and have good color but are very low in alcohol and fairly acid. They should make pleasant, rapid consumption. The characteristics of the different crus (Brouilly, Morgon, etc.) should be very distinct. Ferraud claims the growers are being more reasonable about sugaring to raise the alcoholic content this year.
Champagne. – The harvest is of good quality although it will not make vintage champagne, says Georges Vesselle, grower and director of vineyards for G.H. Mumm & Co. The wines are well balanced and the crop is large, 700-750,000 barrels of 205 liters.
The whites were particularly abundant despite some minor freezing in the spring. On the other hand they ripened less well than the more concentrated red grapes. Curiously, the bunches were few but what they lacked in number, they made up for in size.
Alsace. – The harvesting will be over at the end of the month, says Pierre Frick, an organic grower at Pfaffenheim. The crop is above average in size. The wines are harmonious with adequate alcohol and acidity and should be typical of this region. Quality will be irregular, however – less good for those who overproduced.
Loire Valley, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé. – The harvest is coming to an end. Pierre Dezat, grower at Maimbray, near Sancerre, says the reds and rosés are of average quality in average quantity. The same goes for the whites of Pouilly-Fumé across the Loire from Sancerre. In both regions prices will certainly rise because there are no stocks and these are popular wines.
Musscadet. – Various reports from this Atlantic area of the Loire give the same picture as the whites of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.
Bourgueil, Chinon. – Paul Maitre, grower at Bourgueil, reports a late harvest that will end in a few days. Only 60 per cent of a normal crop is expected. Color is light, acidity not too bad, alcohol is adequate.
There was some rot and affected bunches are being left on the vines. Those who refused to treat the vines for disease have no crop. Prices should stay stable because last year's exceptionally good crop was expensive and this year's is only average in quality. The same should hold true for Chinon.
Côtes-du-Rhône. – Rot was a problem for a while here, says Paul Coulon, grower at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the harvest is only just coming to an end. It is of average size and of above average quality with a good balance of acidity and tannin and relatively light alcohol, 13 per cent, for this area. The whites come off about as well as the reds.