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2002 Vintage Roundup

Snapshots of what to expect from key wine regions around the world

Posted: January 8, 2003

Vintage Roundup by Region:
Austria
France
Germany
Italy
Spain
The United States
Related link:
Harvest 2002
Our complete round-up of harvests around the world.

AUSTRIA
Growing conditions early on led to very healthy grapes, with good flavor and acidity. But the month of August was marked by heavy rainfall, particularly in the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions, which experienced extensive flooding. The excess water and spread of rot meant that selection in the vineyards, to remove damaged grapes, was very important as harvest approached. Despite intermittent rainfall in September and October, producers tout the merit of the 2002 reds, especially Blaufränkisch, citing ripe flavors, with high concentration and wonderful aromas. Winemakers are also pleased with the potential quality of whites such as Grüner Veltliner, which balance clearly defined fruit flavors with ripe, juicy acidity.
-- Alison Napjus

FRANCE

Alsace
Growers battled high yields, along with more rain than usual and rot, but those who kept yields down were rewarded with ripe, healthy grapes. "2002 was an awful year for those who took shortcuts, with gray rot being the big problem," said Zind-Humbrecht winemaker Olivier Humbrecht. A dry period in early October provided a window of opportunity to harvest. Riesling appears to be the most successful variety, with Pinot Gris also looking strong. Hugel and Zind-Humbrecht were pleased with their Gewürztraminers, because they have higher acidity levels than normal. In fact, high acidity and high ripeness characterize the vintage at the top of the quality spectrum. Growers compared the vintage to 1996 or 1995 in terms of structure, and to 2000 and 1989 in terms of maturity. The top estates also report making some excellent late-harvest wines.
-- Bruce Sanderson

Bordeaux
In France's top wine region, the summer of 2002 was one of the coolest and grayest ever, yet châteaus made extremely rich, concentrated reds due to small crops and dry weather. In late August, the weather changed and provided warm, bright days and cool, clear nights -- perfect conditions for efficient photosynthesis in the vines. Whether that was enough to offset the poor weather earlier remains to be seen. Producers who did not keep grape yields to the bare minimum are sure to have made "green," diluted reds. But top estates are reporting that some of their young reds, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, are very high in alcohol and packed with tannins. "It's too early to say exactly, but some of my wines have some of the highest levels of tannins and color that I have seen in years," said Anthony Barton, owner of châteaus Léoville Barton and Langoa Barton.
-- James Suckling

Burgundy
In the Côte d'Or and Chablis, a dry summer and a sunny September paved the way for growers to harvest grapes of exceptional balance. Thanks to the high sugar content and good acid levels, winemakers said there was little need to chaptalize (adding sugar during fermentation) or acidify (adding tartaric acid) -- which are both common practices in Burgundy. Leading growers from the northern Côte de Nuits even proclaimed 2002 would be a "vintage of the century," although some of them toned down their enthusiasm a few weeks after the harvest, saying that the Pinot Noirs seemed to have less body than they had first expected. But most agreed that 2002 should at least be outstanding. There was little debate as to the overall fine quality of Chardonnays, especially in Chablis, which may have produced legendary wines due to perfect harvest conditions.
-- Per-Henrik Mansson

Champagne
After a soggy 2001 harvest, the Champagne region was endowed with sunshine and warm weather during 2002. The grapes achieved such high ripeness that the Champenois risked acidities too low to provide the freshness and structure needed for long-lived Champagnes. All the growers and houses contacted said quality is exceptional, and most expect to produce vintage Champagnes, although they cautioned that it's still too early to decide. The base wines are fruity and concentrated, and 2002 saw the highest average degree of potential alcohol since the 1990 vintage. Comparisons have also been made to the 1976 and 1989 vintages, which could mean plenty of charm and rich, opulent wines. The 2002 wines will appear in blends in three to five years, but you'll have to wait until 2007 or later for the vintage-dated Champagnes.
-- Bruce Sanderson

Loire Valley
Throughout the region, vintners seem upbeat about the quality of 2002, despite rain in August and up-and-down temperatures. Good weather in September helped out, and Chinon's Domaine Charles Joguet reported its highest sugar levels since 1990. The producer expects wines with excellent balance, as do most Muscadet vintners on the opposite end of the valley. In Vouvray, S.A. Huët reported that, due to severe selection in the vineyards, the grapes were high enough in quality to produce dry and sweet bottlings. In Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre, Jean-Luc Soty, winemaker for Pascal Jolivet, said that cool nights in August and September aided "the development of aromas and good levels of acidity, which is so important for the Sauvignon Blanc."
-- Jacob Gaffney

Northern Rhône
For three weeks before the harvest, days of rain alternated with days of sun. This lethal combination sent rot galloping through the Syrah vineyards and forced growers in appellations such as Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu and Hermitage to pick early and quickly, before the grapes had ripened fully. Growers asked authorities for the right to pick grapes below the legal potential alcohol level. "We worried that you had to either pick unripe or lose the crop to rot," said winemaker Marcel Guigal of E. Guigal. In the end, a few days of sunshine boosted the maturity levels above the legal threshold. But to produce good wine, it was essential to make a severe selection, said Laurent Courbis of Domaine Courbis in Cornas, whose estate eliminated 30 percent of its crop.
-- Per-Henrik Mansson

Southern Rhône
Early September storms caused widespread damage, flooding vineyards and killing roughly two dozen people. Expectations are not high for quality in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Côtes du Rhône after four vintages (1998 to 2001) that produced very good to excellent wines. Magali Coulon of Paul Coulon & Fils said the winery couldn't use grapes from its inundated vineyards in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but picked quickly and with "satisfying results" in other areas. Marcel Guigal, who called the vintage catastrophic, isn't making his highly regarded Châteauneuf-du-Pape bottling from 2002. "We managed to make some wine by making a draconian selection," said Daniel Brunier of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, also in Châteauneuf. "The whites are nice and the reds are fun."
-- Per-Henrik Mansson

GERMANY
A warm summer, with intermittent rainfall, resulted in early maturity and abundant grapes with unusually high sugar levels and high acidity. But fair weather ended in mid-October, and regular periods of rain continued through November, forcing growers to move quickly to harvest. Producers who had focused their efforts on thinning their vineyards and pre-picking did not suffer extensive rain damage to their already healthy grapes. The 2002 crop is larger than the small 2001 vintage, but the bulk of the wines will be in the kabinett and spätlese categories, with smaller amounts of auslese. Missing will be the high quality dessert wines at the beerenauselese and trockenbeernauslese levels for which Germany is so well-known, as in many cases, the rain simply washed away the botrytis necessary for their creation. However, with the first frosts in December, growers were able to harvest excellent quality eiswein.
-- Alison Napjus

ITALY

Piedmont
Producers in Piedmont were surprised with the quality of their wines following what was one of the most difficult vintages in the area's recent history. Not only was it wet and cool for most of the growing season, various hailstorms hammered the vineyards. One of the worst was in early September when golf-ball-sized hail ripped through some of Barolo's best vineyards, including Cannubi, Cerequio and Brunate. "If I have to go through another summer like that I am going to have a heart attack," said Pio Boffa, owner of the well-known Pio Cesare winery. Yet Boffa and some other top Piedmont producers hope to make some good Barolos and Barbarescos, as well as acceptable Dolcettos, Barberas and other everyday-drinking wines.
-- James Suckling

Tuscany
For many producers in Italy's premier wine region, 2002 may be best forgotten. It rained for most of the summer, making it one of the area's wettest and coolest growing seasons of all time. In addition, freak hailstorms and vine diseases were widespread. When the harvest finally began in late September, it was under only partially sunny skies. That all said, some producers managed to make acceptable, even good wines, if they were very selective in their vineyards and cellars. A few producers even believe they made outstanding wines, particularly some Brunello di Montalcinos and wines from parts of the Maremma. "I think I made some tiny amount of very good wine," said Giampaolo Motta, owner of La Massa in Chianti Classico. "But it wasn't easy. We had more rain from July to October than we normally do in an entire year."
-- James Suckling

Rest of Italy
The best thing about 2002 for most Italian wine producers is that it is over. With a few exceptions, most wine producers on the Italian peninsula were beleaguered by extreme weather for much of the growing season. Just about everything happened, from monsoonlike rains to hellish hailstorms. Few areas seemed to escape nature's wrath, although small pockets should produce decent wines. One wine producer in Sardinia said that he was going to make some of his best wine yet from 2002, and reports are positive from Sicily. However, the majority echoed the words of consulting enologist Riccardo Cotarella, "You can't really talk about very good quality in 2002; it's more a question of being less bad."
-- Jo Cooke

SPAIN
Variable weather, such as droughts and lower-than-usual temperatures, resulted in uneven budding and ripening across Spain. Yields were down overall from 2001 -- in Rioja, for example, by 23 percent -- though the more weather-resistant varieties, such as Garnacha, fared better than Tempranillo. Despite the challenges winemakers faced, the Rioja Regulatory Council believes the 2002 wines have "good structure" and "suitability for aging." In Ribera del Duero, a spring frost followed by an overcast, dry summer led to lower potential alcohol levels and less concentrated wines, according to some producers. Areas such as Priorat, Toro and Valencia also had mixed results, leaving producers uncertain of 2002's quality.
-- Jacob Gaffney

THE UNITED STATES

California
California's harvest was all about patience. The weather in key wine regions was unusually cool early in the growing season, while summer and fall saw extended heat spells. That schizophrenic weather meant that, by September, the grapes had developed high sugars, but often lacked mature flavors and tannins. "Some people panicked and picked early and ended up with herbaceous flavors," said Simi winemaker Nick Goldschmidt. Those who waited for the flavors to develop said that Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are promising, although it was a rough year for Merlot. Syrah was also a standout in the Central Coast. Mat Garretson of Garretson Wine Co. in Paso Robles said consumers who enjoy big, ultraripe wines should be happy, as long as they're prepared for the high-alcohol kick.
-- Tim Fish

New York
The state suffered under drought conditions for much of the growing season, but the hot, dry weather resulted in low-yield crops that promise intensely flavored wines. In Long Island, "Chardonnay and Merlot look good to very good," said Russell Hearn, director of the Premium Wine Group custom-crush facility. "Sugar levels were not as high as in 2001, but ripeness was there. But heavily cropped Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon did not ripen as fully." In the Finger Lakes, David Whiting, owner of Red Newt Cellar, said "reds are going to show nicely" and whites should have "ample fruit and supple structure." Riesling, the region's preeminent variety, should be especially appealing. "We were surprised at how well it came in, after some rain at the end of harvest," said Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyards.
-- Matthew DeBord

Pacific Northwest
Oregon and Washington often have dramatically different growing seasons, but these two states were in tune in 2002. Each experienced a cooler-than-usual spring and a warm summer that boosted sugar levels in the grapes as harvest neared. Just as growers and vintners began to worry that flavors wouldn't mature before rain or severe cold arrived, the weather turned pleasantly cool and allowed the grapes to develop more complexity. In Washington, Hogue Cellars winemaker David Forsyth reported that Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are promising, but Merlot lacks intensity. Scott Wright, managing director of Domaine Drouhin in Oregon, said, "Clearly the Pinot Noirs are going to be exceptional. We got a lot of extra hang [time] and could really pick when we wanted to."
-- Tim Fish

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