Winehog’s Steen Öhman shares his Burgundy 2017 Vintage Report

In anticipation of the imminent Burgundy 2017s hitting the market, the F+R team have been eager to get first impressions of the vintage from some of the world’s leading experts on the region. In a series of interviews with producers and critics alike, we caught up with Winehog’s Steen Öhman, to find out his thoughts and what to expect with the 2017s…

 

What are the defining elements that mark the 2017 vintage? Is this the same in each of the regions of Burgundy (Chablis, Cote d’Or, Chalonnaise, Maconnais) – or have they been marked by different episodes? 

The 2017 vintage is a pleasant “surprise”: both the reds and the whites are at large very pretty, drinkable and enjoyable wines. For those who like forward, charming and rather elegant Burgundies, this represents a return to the more classic style of Burgundies, after the intense and low yield 2016s, and the mighty and concentrated 2015s.

It’s a slightly hot vintage, and this is seen in both the red and the whites. However it’s still quite early with at least 3 to 6 months of elevage left for most wines. Quite a lot can happen to the balance of the wines during this period.

The 2017 vintage is also a return to more normal yields in most regions of Burgundy, after low or very low yields for several years. Yield is actually a quality determining factor in 2017, as some have failed to limit the yields and harvested beyond reason. It is therefore very important to be selective in 2017, as especially amongst the reds, diluted wines can appear, and even among the whites rather light wines are a risk.

 

How do they compare with 2015s and 2016s at this early stage– across the different regions? You mention less energy but more balance? Less serious, more hedonistic? Less concentrated, more classic? Are these fair generalisations? 

The 2017s are on the drinkable and hedonistic side – at their best they have both a lovely fruit and fine energy. The 2017 vintage is a lighter vintage than both 2015 and 2016. In general yields have been quite a lot higher, but if the yields have been kept down – below 45 hl/ha at least for the reds – then the fruit and balance have been maintained, and the hedonistic element kept.

The vintage is by nature not a serious creature, but rather a joyful and hedonistic fellow, and the best producers have found this essence in the wines. It’s rather classic but slightly on the hot side – with quite some variation, as the frost in 2016 has influenced the result in 2017, sometimes to a rather large degree.

In my view it’s a vintage that offers lovely drinkability along the lines of 2007 for the reds, but with a more concentrated core of fruit – perhaps reminding me a bit of the charming fruit of the 2002 vintage. Anyhow it’s a vintage with tremendous charm and a very good level of refinement.

 

Why do you think the vintage is like it is, what were the defining factors in weather, picking etc.?

The 2017 vintage was in general fairly easy, that being said, there was the occasional hailstorm locally. The vintage gave the opportunity to harvest high yields – a relief in areas hit by the frost the year before.

however the temptation to harvest a bit too much was too strong for some producers, and this sort of lost the beauty of the year. Prudence and restraint was important – although it was perfectly understandable that some producers reduced the yields too little or not at all after the very low yields in 2016.

 

With a fairly smooth growing season in 2017 how important are the winemakers choices: picking / vinification / maturation? Are these differences noticeable in the styles of different producers? Have some producers capitalised on this, or missed an opportunity?

The organic and biodynamic producers really suffered a lot in 2016, but it appears that 2017 was a much needed rebound for these growers.

It seems like the balance of the biodynamic vineyards has been better in 2017, with a more controlled harvest yield, even in the difficult areas. Some drought has been seen in 2017, and even in this case the biodynamic and organic growers seen to have suffered less.

It’s great to see that the organic growers that stood through the hardships of 2016 will now reap some benefits in both 2017 and even in 2018 – which also seems to have yielded a lovely harvest, according to recent harvest reports at least.

 

In a vintage like this, does terroir become more or less important?

Terroir is always of the essence – either in the short or the long run – but I do feel that the expression of the terroir will be even more important for the 2017s. I think that the best 2017s, from the great terroirs, will unfold beautifully and as such, the terroir does represent a very important part of these wines.

As a lesser year than 2016 and 2015, we find lighter wines – and here the struggle for terroir expression could be harder, especially if the yields were on the high side.

In the 2017s I would expect a lovely expression of terroir in the best wines, and expect the wines to unfold beautifully within 10 to 15 years or so – there are certainly some lovely wines to select from.

Have you noted different impressions of the vintage depending on the grower or village?

The 2017 vintage is in general a fine vintage, but the risk of greater variation strikes in the areas hit by frost in the 2016 vintage.

In the areas greatly affected by the frost, we see some areas of very vivid growth in the vineyards, with a possibility of very high yields. In an ideal world, this would have been reduced good and early, but sadly in some cases it has been reduced too late – some just before the harvest – or not reduced at all. The result is the risk of high yields in the frosted areas like Chambolle-Musigny, Savigny-Les-Beaune and Beaune, for the growers not aware and alert.

It is very understandable that the reduction of the yields was done late and very carefully, after the great loss in 2016, but seen retrospectively the yields should in some cases have been cut back much earlier.

 

What are the positives regarding the 2017 vintage?

The positives with regards to the 2017 vintage are the lovely energy and positive attitude of the vintage.

The best wines are truly pretty and forward, offering a lot of joy and hedonistic pleasure. They are in a sense more classic and extrovert than the 2016 and 2015 vintage – and more a restaurateur vintage, while we wait for the other two acclaimed vintages to reach maturity.

It is a slightly warm vintage, and this is influencing most wines. It’s a charming element, and an important part of the vintage, although it must be kept in balance.

 

And the negatives?

Negatives are the high yields influencing a fair amount of the wines produced in the lower end of the market, and sadly even in the higher end. In my view, high yields are clearly a bigger problem for the reds, as they really will suffer with a 70 hl/ha yield, whereas the whites will manage, albeit in a rather diluted way.

The temptation was sadly to harvest a bit too much, and these wines are not made for collectors! So be selective, especially with the reds!

At this early stage, which appellations and producers are you most excited about in the 2017 vintage?

At this rather early stage I would say that the usual top producers like Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair and Domaine Georges Noëllat have produced lovely 2017s. Appellation-wise, I think Vosne-Romanée, Gevrey-Chambetin and Corton should be mentioned, although lovely wines have been made in most major appellations.

Of the new producers I found Domaine Duroché to have produced some tremendous 2017. Pierre Duroché is most certainly one of the top end estates in Gevrey these days.

Coquard-Loison-Fleurot is one of the new stars in my view, with a large portfolio of Grand Crus, and a very talented winemaker, Thomas Colladot. They have made gorgeous 2017s.

Jean-Marc Millot is making strong progress and the 2017s are tremendous. Clearly a producer to follow now that his daughter Alix Millot is taking over.

For the whites, I do feel tempted to mention Domaine Morey-Coffinet, where Thibault Morey has produced some lovely 2017s from his fine portfolio of vineyards. Lovely balance in these organic (and soon biodynamic) wines.

Domaine Jean Chartron is also showing very well indeed, and Jean-Michel Chartron has done very well indeed with the 2017s in Puligny –  the top cuvees shine brightly.

For producers making both white and red, I find lovely wines at Domaine Dublère and Maison Joseph Drouhin, where Veronique Drouhin has made some very enjoyable wines.

Finally, I would also have to mention Marchand-Tawse in Nuits-Saint-Georges that have produced some incredible wines.

Lovely wines at most levels; very drinkable and enjoyable.

 

What in your personal opinion are some of the top vineyards in terms of price-to-quality ratio in Burgundy?

In my view, the top price-to-quality ratio in Burgundy can be found in the Corton and the Beaune area, and this is also the case in 2017.

Firstly, tremendous wines are being made in these appellations, and strangely these are often overlooked by collectors, who apparently prefer to spend the money only in appellations like Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny.

A producer like Domaine des Croix has produced lovely 2017s – vivid and with a lovely energy – from both Beaune and Corton.

What villages in Burgundy are really improving and where are you finding progress more slow?

The progress in Burgundy is actually tremendous – although one has to look more carefully in some areas. I do find the progress in the Beaune, Savigny Les Beaune and Hautes Côte de Nuits areas exciting, as there are a lot of new growers and negociants that have started here within the last 10 years.

Areas like Chambolle-Musigny are a bit more static, and the prices of the vineyards does limit the introduction of new growers.

To you, what defines an outstanding wine from a fine wine – what are the subtle differences?

The definition or explanation of an “outstanding wine” can sometimes be difficult. While I do from time to time taste some outstanding Burgundies, and while there are many different expressions, I do find one thing in common that separates the outstanding from the fine wines.

The key difference is the level of depth and complexity of the wine – the outstanding wines simply have another level of detail and additional layers of terroir complexity to offer. Bigger is not better, but the level of depth and complexity can, in the right wines, shine with the radiance of true balance to create an outstanding wine.

Outside of this vintage what have been the wines that have blown you away recently?

Of recent vintages, I do feel that 2007 (which perhaps has a certain resemblance to 2017) has given me many joyful moments recently. 2007s are pretty and show a lovely vivacious fruit. It is important to remember that these slightly “lesser” years show their real beauty when they begin to mature.

Otherwise, the 1999 vintage is starting to unfold a bit – a wine like Georges Roumier Chambolle-Musigny Les Cras is starting to show its beauty almost 20 years after harvest. It does underline the importance of getting both great vintages for long-term drinking and the lesser years for medium-term drinking.

I do see a lovely potential also in the 2009 vintage, albeit some years down the road. A lot of charming fruit is starting to appear as is a lovely complexity.