Seillan: California 2017 vintage ‘in top 5 of past 20 years’

This year’s vintage in California will rate as one of the greatest of the past 20 years, according to Vérité winemaker Pierre Seillan.

Speaking in London on Monday this week about the conditions in Sonoma County, the source region for Vérité’s triumvirate of wines made from Bordeaux grapes, Seillan said that 2017 was a “great” vintage, adding that he would place it in quality terms among the “top five vintages of the past 20 years”.

In particular, he said that the vines had benefitted from the large amount of ground water due to an unusually wet winter in California, which had in fact brought flooding to low-lying areas of Sonoma and Napa.

“We had a great winter with a lot of rain, which is good for us, because most of our blocks are dry farmed,” he said.

Although neighbouring Napa suffered a freak hailstorm on 11 June, the impact was localized, and the only climatic extremes affecting Sonoma during this year’s growing season were very high summertime temperatures, according to Seillan.

However, he added that the heatwave had only negatively affected a small proportion of the Merlot used in his wines, and, because Vérité uses grapes grown on exposed hillsides at relatively high altitudes, where the nights are cool, a large diurnal temperature swing had ensured gradual ripening.

“Just a few lots of Merlot were challenging because the grape doesn’t like it when it gets too hot, it is very susceptible to heat, but we have beautiful Merlot from Jackson Park and the Alexander Valley, and all the other grapes [used for Vérité] are beautiful,” he said, adding that he was just finishing the harvest of Cabernet Franc “now”, but that the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot had been picked.

More generally, he said that because heatwaves had become more common in California he was grateful he sourced grapes from Sonoma, and not the generally warmer Napa – which is of course more famous than Sonoma, particularly when it comes to fine wines made from Bordeaux grape varieties.

“After 20 years making wine in California I am very pleased I chose Sonoma,” he said.

“And now, with climate change, you see many looking at Sonoma, and even Mendocino,” he added.

As previously reported by the drinks business, Seillan also said that Sonoma County offers more fine wine potential than any other region worldwide, due to its climate, as well as its soils and topography.

“With the soil diversity in Sonoma, the topography, and because the rules allow me to blend across different terroirs, we have more potential in Sonoma than the rest of the world,” he said, in part comparing the Californian region to more strictly-regulated Bordeaux, where he made wine for 22 years.

Vérité is owned by Jackson Family Wines and comprises three wines: La Muse, which is Merlot-dominant, and seen as Sonoma’s answer to Pomerol; La Joie, which is a Cabernet-dominant equivalent to Pauillac, and finally, Le Désir, which is dominated by Cabernet Franc, and considered to be more akin to Saint-Emilion.

The grapes for Vérité are mostly sourced from the 45-hecatere Jackson Park Vineyard, situated at over 165m above sea level on the rolling slopes above Benett Valley in Sonoma, as well as the Alexander Mountain Estate in the eastern part of Alexander Valley, covering slopes from 200-700m altitude, and, to a lesser extent, the Kellogg Estate in the volcanic soils of the Knights Valley.

Seillan came to London to present the 2014 vintage release of Vérité on Monday 2 October to a mixture of trade and press.

A full report on the release will appear in an upcoming edition of the drinks business.

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