OUR 2017 VINTAGE REPORT
Didn't we all wish for a cold winter? A real winter with frost and snow followed by a sunny, cool spring? You know, the return of a real traditional winter? For a change? One thing is certain: 2017 was certainly not a traditional winter. And this became evident soon enough. The winter was cold. Very cold. With many daytime temperatures below the freezing point. And this was good, as nature has to have the chance now and again to regenerate itself properly. Even if the first snow cover since 2010 suggested otherwise, the winter of 2016/2017 was also very dry, precipitation was scarce: a deficit of 50mm compared to the long-term average developed during the months of January through April. And so began the growth cycle of the grapevines, without a full reserve of available water in the soil from rainfall, but with just enough to start the first growing stage.
Bud break began on April the 5th in the warmer vineyards and daytime temperatures rose to as much as 20 degrees Celsius. Then temperatures fell drastically in the night of April the 19th, the lowest temperature measured in our vineyards was -5 degrees Celsius. Frost damage seemed inevitable. However, as if by some miracle we were mercifully spared in this first round of frost versus vine. Then a few days later during the night of April the 23rd which had a daytime high of 26 degrees Celsius, we went down for the count when the next cold wave set in at -6 degrees Celsius. This time our flatland vineyards Friedelsheim, Niederkirchen and Ruppertsberg showed some damage. However painful damage and losses were, we were still extremely fortunate compared to a number of our colleagues in more northerly wine regions. After the cold spell Mother Nature was more forgiving by bringing us a May with significantly higher rainfall than in previous years.
The flowering stage commenced on June the 2nd, which is the usual time to start this process. June weighed in with hot daytime temperatures up to 35 degrees Celsius and weeks of no rain. Finally, on the second weekend of July we got our overdue rainfall, even when the amount was slight. We measured just four liters of precipitation in Deidesheim. And on July the 11th a minor second helping of five to seven liters fell on Ruppertsberg and Forst. Not only that, temperatures fell considerably. The vines were able to recover a bit and cool off after the hot days of excess sunshine. By August we were back on the vintage track so that we could begin harvesting on the 28th-the earliest we'd ever begun a harvest in the history of von Buhl. This time harvesting began with our Pinot Blanc grapes, grown for our Blanc de Blanc Prestige Sparkling Wine in the Friedelsheim vineyard, which we were able to harvest at perfect ripeness and the high acidity we value so much. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes followed, and in the first week of September after a short pause on September the 2nd due to heavy rain, the Riesling grapes we use to produce sparkling wines were next in line. At this point it was clear that we had to be prepared for a very early as well as very short harvest, as our various vineyards often ripened almost all at the same time. This meant no time to put our feet up between pickings. The only time we could take a short break was from the 13th to the 15th: two days of rain plus an additional day to give the grapes a chance to dry before continuing. Otherwise the harvest proceeded seven days a week every week.
On September 28th, the last of the vintage grapes were taken to the winepress. Just to show how different vintages can be, at this point in time in 2013 we hadn't even started harvesting! What we as a new team have noticed in the last five very different vintages so far, is how well the vineyards have learned to adapt to extreme weather. The transition to biodynamic cultivation has increased the soils' overall vitality, which has noticeably improved the health of the plants. By the way, we will be fully certified as a biodynamic winery starting with the 2018 vintage. But what we've always been aiming for anyway is to produce the best possible wines in harmony with nature.
Now, back to the 2017 vintage. The fermentation went very well and all wines are left to rest-as usual sulfur-free-on their gross lees. After a first and thorough sample tasting in the cellar at the end of November, we are very confident about the future of our 2017 vintage. We suffered losses in terms of quantity, but only about 10 percent. On the other hand, the wines show precision, are taut and fresh, with cool fruit characteristics. Consistent with the previous years 2015 and 2016, 2017 is another vintage benefiting from a long maturing period on its gross lees but we won't have to say, "It certainly needed it!" This confirms to us once again that our approach is right; to bottle the wines very late by allowing them to age in our cellar one more year. Thus, in addition to the Herrgottsacker, Paradiesgarten, Musenhang, Reiterpfad Hofstück, Freundstück, Kirchenstück and Jesuitengarten, which had already been converted to late release, we are now also transitioning the Mäushöhle, Pechstein and Reiterpfad In der Hohl sites over to the new von Buhl plan. Mathieu Kauffmann is toying with the idea of allowing the Leinhöhle to rest another year too. This will be decided in March when the wines have matured another three months. In any case, you can be pleased to know that 2017 is a good year, regardless of when it is released. Besides, many a sparkling wine will take up to ten years before they are introduced to the market. Long live patience…
COMMENTS FROM THE VINEYARD AND CELLAR:
Werner Sebastian: I think there is no such thing as a "normal" vintage any more. The years fluctuate constantly from hot and dry to cool and very humid and all versions in between. This also results in every vintage having its very own character and that's why I have always loved being a winemaker. It's been ages since we've had a bad year; it's more like each year presents us with a completely new challenge.
Mathieu Kauffmann: In Champagne there's an old rule, "If you think you're early, then you're already too late." This is what I always keep in mind. We started on August the 28th-and if we hadn't started out going full throttle, we would have lost out in the end. I am absolutely thrilled with the quality; the acidity is fantastic. I love these types of vintages-not during harvest mind you, but afterwards!