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Austria: A Hot, Dry Year Benefits Dry and Sweet Whites

Vintners who waited out September rains and harvested during a sunny October and November expect high-quality wines.

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: January 3, 2002

 
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Hot and dry describes the weather during most of Austria's growing season in 2001. Despite rain in September, the country's wine regions -- which are known for racy, exotic dry whites such Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, as well as for spicy red Blaufränkisch -- harvested an average-sized crop of healthy grapes.

Cool temperatures and wind in September were followed by dry, sunny weather in October and November, and vintners who waited to harvest generally succeeded in achieving fine quality grapes.

Most of the growing season was normal, with some problems reported in the Burgenland region with the flowering of the Zweigelt, the country's most widely planted red variety, in June.

In the Kremstal appellation, Martin Nigl of Weingut Familie Nigl -- one of the big names for Grüner Veltliner and dry Riesling -- reported some localized hail damage in August. Rot slowly appeared in the vineyards due to the September rains, but Nigl was satisfied overall, characterizing the wines as having the fruit and concentration of 1997 and the structure of 1990 -- both excellent vintages.

At Weingut Hirsch in the Kamptal appellation, another estate known for its dry whites, Johannes Hirsch said fastidious canopy management was crucial to dealing with the rainy September. He removed any rot at the end of September, leaving the healthy grapes for the glorious October that followed.

The result was small quantities of top-quality, single-vineyard wines, but he said, "heartbreaking amounts of good parcels" were declassified. In the end, Hirsch called it a year with "classic Austrian style: good acid, clear definition of fruit, great with food and super drinkability."

In the Wachau, Franz Hirtzberger -- whose lineup of whites also includes Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris -- resorted to irrigation during the summer to prevent the hot weather from overstressing the vines. The area experienced some rain in September, but more importantly, received only 40 percent of its normal sunlight hours that month. Hirtzberger began harvesting on Oct. 15, with most of the picking occurring in November. The last grapes came in on Nov. 29.

"All the grapes had very high physiological ripeness, with a perfect relation of sweetness to acidity," said Hirtzberger. "We think the wines of the 2001 vintage will be great."

For red wines in northern Burgenland, Josef Umathum of Umathum described 2001 as "the year of good nerves." A drawn-out flowering resulted in green berries having to be removed from the clusters of Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) and Zweigelt. Water stress became a problem due to the dry, hot summer, so soil management and canopy management were crucial. The dry weather also produced thick skins, which turned out to be an advantage when the rains came, during the wettest September since 1926.

"The color and concentration of the reds is good, not the same quality as 1999 and 2000, but somewhere between 1998 and 1999," said Umathum. "They should develop quickly."

Burgenland is also the source of Austria's greatest dessert wines. Winemaker Alois Kracher of Weinlaubenhof Kracher -- which is best known for its classic trockenbeerenauslese and other outstanding dessert wines -- began harvesting at the beginning of October, completing the last selection on Dec. 1.

"It's the first time I remember four great vintages in a row," recalled Kracher, "with two elegant years, 1999 and 2001."

Although the vineyard yields were normal at Kracher, coming in at about 1.15 to 1.7 tons of grapes per acre, only half of that was top quality. "The main point is the wines have finesse, with fine acidity and freshness," added Kracher.

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