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Alsace: A Warm October Saved the Day

Growers fared well with most white varieties, and in some cases, made sweet late-harvest wines.

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: January 2, 2002

  United States  
  2001 Harvest Diaries  
  2000 Vintage Report  

Warm weather in October saved the harvest in Alsace, allowing growers there to harvest ripe grapes and, in some instances, produce late-harvest vendanges tardives and sélection de grains nobles wines.

"Thanks to the Indian summer, 2001 has turned out to be a classic Alsace vintage of comfortable volume, satisfactory maturity and excellent acidity levels that should ensure well-balanced wines," summed up Etienne Hugel of Hugel.

Overall, the year's weather conditions -- with a wet spring and cooler-than-average temperatures for part of July -- were moderate, except in September. "September was a disaster," stated André Ostertag of Domaine Ostertag.

"Everything went wrong," echoed Jean Trimbach of Trimbach. September's rain hit the area hard, but the accompanying cold temperatures helped to slow the spread of rot.

October then brought dry, hot weather, with temperatures reaching more than 80 degrees F, which improved the quality of the grapes at harvest. Trimbach, whose estate finished picking on Nov. 6, declared 2001 an "unexpected success," particularly for Riesling. He said that the vineyards developed "textbook" botrytis (a beneficial fungus that concentrates grape sugars), giving them a chance to make late-harvest dessert wines. He feels 2001 is slightly better in quality than 1998 or 1999, but not as good as 2000.

For Laurence Faller, winemaker at Domaine Weinbach, the grapes matured less quickly than in 2000, but then advanced rapidly during the harvest. Weinbach picked the entire crop in less time than usual, yet made a full complement of wines, including VTs and SGNs from Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. "We had very pure botrytis, and sugar levels even richer than in 2000," noted Faller.

However, Muscat posed a bit of a problem at Weinbach due to uneven fruit set after flowering, an occurrence called coulure in French.

At Domaine Paul Blanck, winemaker Frédéric Blanck also saw coulure in his Muscat, but said that grape maturity and acidity levels were generally higher than in 2000 and that yields were about the same. Although he found it difficult to compare 2001 with another year, Blanck felt the style of wines and the weather patterns resembled those of 1986.

Mildew problems threatened vines on heavier soils, a particularly nerve-racking problem for Ostertag, who farms biodynamically. Yields were down 20 percent at his estate due to millerandage, a condition in which clusters have very small, seedless berries in addition to normal grapes. Ostertag's vineyards didn't develop much botrytis, resulting in "a more classic year, like 1988," he said. "For me it's not a problem, because it fits the Ostertag style."

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