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By Jacob Gaffney
Winemakers in Alsace didn't have to worry about any millennium bugs during the 2000 harvest: It looks to be a memorable year for the dry white wines for which this region in northeastern France is best known.
"All the producers in the wine world must have dreamed of a memorable vintage that would bear the magic 2000 number," said Etienne Hugel, winemaker at Hugel & Fils. "Y2K in Alsace will be one of the best in recent years, with normal volumes, with very good levels of ripeness for all varieties."
Pierre Trimbach, winemaker and co-owner of Trimbach, which makes generic and estate-grown Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gew¿rztraminer, said that the vintage benefited from favorable weather throughout much of the year. The winter was not as cold as usual, with only a few frosts. Spring came early, with warm temperatures and plenty of sun, which led to an early budbreak. The only bad weather encountered was during July, which "was very hot, with some storms, some hail, which wasn't that important," said Trimbach.
Warm, sunny weather in August and September yielded grapes with good levels of ripeness and acidity. Workers started harvesting a little earlier than usual, beginning in the second half of September, to prevent the grapes from overripening. The only rain that came during harvest was in mid-October, but by then, two-thirds of the crop was in.
"We had a wonderful millennium harvest," said Laurence Faller, winemaker for Domaine Weinbach. "Great maturity, aromatic complexity and beautiful acidity."
Trimbach compared the high quality of the 2000 vintage to 1997 and 1990. "We had excellent sugar levels," he said. "The acidity is good -- we had higher tartaric levels than malolactic -- so the wine will have better balance."
The vintage turned out to be a particularly excellent one for Alsace's signature Riesling and Pinot Blanc grapes, as well as for Pinot Gris. "Riesling seems to be the best grape of the year, which seems right for Alsace," said Trimbach. "They will have power, with a long aftertaste, without anything heavy and flabby."
However, some Muscat grapes were affected by the October rains. "It's is not a great vintage for Muscat," said Trimbach. "[It has] less concentration, but it doesn't mean the wine will have less flavors or fruit."
At least some Alsace growers will be producing late-harvest wines, known as vendanges tardives and selections de grains nobles, though it's too early to be sure of the quality, as these wines take a long time to ferment, due to their high sugar levels.
"Producers who picked early enjoyed good weather conditions, as we had for the classic wines. Those, as we did, who specially waited for late harvesting had more difficult weather conditions," said Marc Beyer of Leon Beyer, which is making Tokay and Gewurztraminer vendanges tardives and Gewurztraminer selection de grains nobles.
"We think that the quality of the [late-harvest wines] will be irregular in Alsace for this vintage, especially for the selection de grains nobles," he added, though he was very satisfied with the quality of his wines.
Overall, Hugel concluded , "Our first impression about vintage 2000 is that it is probably one of the top five vintages in the last 50 years."
Read recent reports on Alsace: