The 2017 vintage was a difficult one for Stephan von Neipperg and his team. In the frost of April 27-28 they lost much of the crop at Clos Marsalette in Pessac-Léognan, half of the crop in both his Castillon estate Château d’Aiguihle and St Emilion property Clos de l’Oratoire. At Château Canon-la-Gaffelière frost reduced the harvest by 40%. Only the prized La Mondotte vineyard was spared. That’s the bad news. The good news is that team Neipperg have succeeded in making impressive wines, very much against these odds. This is partly thanks to the quality of the remaining crop, a huge amount of work in the vineyard but also a determination to encourage a useful harvest from second generation grapes. It is also says much about Stephan von Neipperg’s own strength of character. Determined not to be despondent, he encouraged his team in the face of adversity. When the going gets tough, as Billy Ocean famously noted, the tough get going.
Ironically after the frost, Neipperg describes the spring weather as ‘summerlike’ and flowering occurred evenly in good conditions. Late June was very wet but July and August were very dry. The rain that arrived in September, in some ways, helped the final ripening of the skins. Across the properties the first generation harvest began on 14 September, finishing on the 29 September. The harvest of the second generation grapes, small bunches admittedly but ripe, which Neipperg explains added ‘middle’ to the fresh, elegant qualities of the first fruit, spanned 3-10 October.
While the second generation grapes were picked by many, Neipperg appears to be unusual in his inclusion of them in the final blends. “People do not think it is possible to harvest good second generation grapes. They were smaller bunches with fewer berries but they really added to the blends. We really made something good with the second generation berries,” Neipperg said in April. Encouraging the second generation harvest was also about giving the team a sense of purpose throughout the growing season, and not feel defeated by the vagaries of nature.
I certainly think they have succeeded across the board here in 2017. There is energy and vibrancy in the wines in the glass. Pessac-Léognan Clos Marsalette works well, with more Cabernet in the blend than usual, due to frost damage. The white Clos Marsalette is a beauty. Castillon property Chateau d’Aiguihle is positive and energetic. It doesn’t have the depth or 2015 and 2016 here but it will have finesse and life. Despite the crop reduction at Clos de l’Oratoire, the wine feels convincingly lush, with a satin fruit and silky tannins. Château Canon-la-Gaffelière has lots of energy too. The emphasis here is on more savoury qualities. La Mondotte is a beauty. It is seductive and flattering to taste already and amongst the very top wines of the appellation.
Below are the detailed notes from my tastings in April. As ever the notes are more important than the numbers….
Clos Marsalette, Pessac-Léognan, 2017
Earthy red; attractive; leafy and lifted blackcurrant and undergrowth style; ‘Graves’ for sure; spicy; attractive; undergrowth notes; nice texture; spicy; nicely fresh and mid weight; good acidity; 35% oak but not for the impact. The Merlot was frost impacted, the Cabernet Sauvignon not, hence the blend has much more Cab than the usual 50:50. [70`% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, harvest 14/9-25/9, 22hl/ha, cuvaison 23 days, 40% new oak]. Tasted 7/4/18. Drink 2021-2029. 89-91+
Château d’Aiguihle, Castillon – Côtes de Castillon, 2017
Deep; dark at centre; attractive; full; quite piercing; almost savoury edge; nice fresh entry; really zappy; has lots of texture; the usual schist notes; [chalk soils]; this works well; spicy with menthol notes. More than 50% frost damage here. Used some second generation grapes in the blend. Niepperg compares it with the 2012 and 2014. Vibrant and energetic d’Aiguilhe. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, harvested between 21/9-7/10, 10hl/ha, cuvaison 30 days, 30% new oak]. Tasted 7/4/18. Drink 2022-2030. 90-92+
Clos de l’Oratoire, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, 2017
Glossy colour; red at edge; purple; round; has that silky aspect; red fruits; sweet entry; unctuous; satin and silk; has schist; notes; good length and acidity; really zest on the back. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, harvest 26/9-2/10, 11hl/ha, cuvaison 30 days, 50% new oak]. Tasted 7/4/18. Drink 2023-2030. 91-93+
Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, 2017
Deep and good colour; tight to the edge; earthy purple; savoury notes; the influence of the Cabernets but this is an integrated nose; sweet entry; very spicy, with schist; quite zappy; real zap on the finish. Will work very well. [60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, harvest 18/9-10/10, 16 hl/ha, cuvaison 30 days, 55% new oak, organic]. Tasted 7/4/18. Drink 2025-2035. 93-95
La Mondotte, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, 2017
Deep and saturated; tight to the edge; liquorice; lush and flattering; really glossy; some sublimated characters; really nicely done on the palate; this works very well; very caressing; nice extraction; lovely wine; not affected by the frost. 8% of vin de presse in the blend. Brilliant stuff! [70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, harvest 14/9-29/9 cuvaison 30 days, 60% new oak, 4.5ha in production, yield 26hl/ha, organic]. Tasted 7/4/18. Drink 2025-2040. 95-97+
Clos Marsalette, Pessac-Léognan, 2017
Brilliant silver; gold; candied; peel; pear drops; fresh palate with lots of life and acidity. This is very good white if in very short supply owing to the frost. [80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon, harvest 13/9, yields 7hl/ha, new oak 30%]. Tasted 7/4/18. Drink 2019-2022. 90-91+
Tags: 2017, Bdx17, Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Canon La Gaffelière, Château d’Aiguihle, Clos de L’Oratoire, Clos Marsalette, Côtes de Castillon, La Mondotte, Merlot, Neipperg, Pessac-Léognan, St Emilion, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, Stephan Von Neipperg