2003: A Vintage That Could Make History
August 18, 2003
German wine harvest began extremely early / Red wines are especially promising /
A generous summer rain would be welcome
Mainz, Germany.....Extraordinary weather this summer has led to one of the earliest wine harvests on record, and as such, a vintage that is likely to make history. Not only the timing of the harvest, but also the qualities - ripeness levels - recorded thus far are exceptional. According to Armin Göring, Director of the German Wine Institute, Mainz, "The way things look now, red wines could be the winners of the season. Grapes everywhere are very healthy and must weights in some Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) vineyards, for example, have already exceeded 60 degrees Oechsle**. Given the fact that about one third of Germany's vineyard area is planted with red wine grapes, as well as the ever-increasing demand for red wine among German consumers, this vintage could be optimal from a marketing point of view."
Although white wine grapes need another four to eight weeks to fully ripen, here, too, the potential quality is enormous. If autumn remains mild, growers anticipate an unusually large proportion of top-quality wines, including those in the premium category Selection as well as rarities, such as Beeren- and Trockenbeerenauslese. Since the acid structure of the grapes is already well balanced, growers will be able to determine when to harvest based on optimal ripeness levels. "At this time," says Göring, "growers would welcome a generous summer rain - but not a major change in the weather pattern that would bring long periods of ongoing rainfall."
Benefits of Quality-conscious Vineyard Measures
Norbert Weber, a wine-grower himself and the President of the German Wine-growers' Association, Bonn, is quick to point out that "this year's 'green harvest' (bunch pruning in August to regulate yields) has been especially beneficial. It has not only effected a desirable increase in quality, but also has helped alleviate potential water shortage problems that could have ensued from this summer's very dry weather. Furthermore, in 2003, more growers have turned to irrigation - particularly in vineyards with young vines - to improve the vines' stability and their ability to yield a quality crop. Vineyards that succumb to drought are an enormous financial loss to their owners - it costs about 25,000 Euros to replant one hectare (2.47 acres) of vines."
The Harvest Schedule
President Weber also mentioned that the harvest always begins with the very early-ripening varieties, such as Bacchus, Ortega or Siegerrebe. These grapes are very well-suited for producing "Federweisser" - grape juice in the early stages of fermentation - a popular, local beverage available only at harvest time. In parts of Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Baden and Württemberg, the main harvest of varieties such as Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner or Dornfelder will begin immediately thereafter. In the other regions, such as Ahr, Sachsen, Saale-Unstrut or Franken, the harvest is expected to begin in early September, and some two weeks later in the regions where the late-ripening Riesling is predominant, e.g. Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Mittelrhein. "In all regions," concludes Weber, "the ripening phase is up to three weeks ahead of the long-term average, a head start that began with an extremely early blossoming and has continued ever since. Due to the low amount of precipitation throughout the season, we expect an overall yield of about nine million hectoliters."
Quality has its Price
Even if the overall size of the crop is likely to be lower than average, Armin Göring does not anticipate excessive price increases for German wines. "Wine lovers can look forward to high-quality wines that offer excellent value for money. After two very good harvests in a row, we expect that the 2003 vintage will further strengthen the positive image that German wines are enjoying domestically and abroad. This could be particularly relevant for German red wines - many of which are still completely unknown in parts of the world."
** One indication of ripeness is the amount of sugar that has developed in the grapes. This can be measured on a thermometer-like device which has a graduated scale that compares the specific gravity of the grape juice, or must, with the specific gravity of water. The must weight is expressed as Oechsle degrees (cf. Brix or Balling). Sixty degrees Oechsle is approaching the minimum ripeness level required for Spätburgunder QbA wines (the minimum requirements vary from region to region and from variety to variety).