A month into their harvest, Austrian winemakers are expressing a range of positive opinions about the 2002 vintage -- from quiet optimism to overwhelming excitement. This comes as something of a surprise given the extensive flooding in early August in some of the country's top wine-producing regions, particularly Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau, which are known for their whites.
Despite the flood damage in his area, Johannes Hirsch of Weingut Hirsch in the Kamptal feels that the 2002 vintage shows promise. He began harvesting Grüner Veltliner in early September, then removed any grapes affected by rot due to the heavy rains. He did not expect to wait long before picking his other white grapes, including those destined for his single-vineyard wines.
Hirsch said that the grapes on the vine are "packed full with fruit -- spicy notes for Grüner and a super-clear fruit definition for Riesling. In some years, the berries don't taste like that in the middle of October, as opposed to this year in August!" He attributed this to the shoot-thinning that was done to reduce yields, as well as to improvements on the vine canopies that were completed before the heavy rains. In addition, wind arrived immediately after the rains and quickly dried the grapes, helping to prevent excessive rot in the vineyards.
In the Kremstal, Bert Salomon of Erich Salomon-Weingut Undhof reported that he started picking his first Grüner Veltliner under ideal conditions -- a string of warm, sunny days and cooler nights. While the flavors and sugar levels are excellent for Grüner, he said, he doesn't expect to pick any Riesling until the middle of October.
In Burgenland, a region known for its dry red and sweet dessert wines, Kurt Feiler, winemaker at Feiler-Artinger, described the summer as a mix of days of heavy rain and others of warm sunshine and breezes. "With all that sun and rain, maturation was very early," said Feiler, who began his harvest during the second week of September.
Feiler-Artinger has yet to pick any grapes for its well-known sweet wines, and is so far focusing on the red and white grapes for its dry wines. But even at this early stage, Feiler is very optimistic, saying, "2002 in our region looks to be one of the top vintages."
Josef Umathum, in a sub-region of Burgenland called Neusiedlersee, shared this sentiment. Umathum, who owns one of the top red wine producers in the country, expects more aromatic wines this year, with a good balance between power and fruit -- partly due to an extensive green harvest during the summer.
"I think it is the best Zweigelt and St. Laurent we have [had] in the cellar since 1992," he said, noting that picking these more delicate grapes, along with Pinot Noir, before a week of heavy rain at the end of September was crucial to gaining good quality.
While most Austrian wineries are now harvesting grapes for their dry whites and reds, it's still too soon to get an overall picture of the quality of the vintage -- as Austria is particularly well-known for its age-worthy dessert wines. Over the next few weeks, producers will be carefully monitoring their grapes for optimal sugar levels and the development of botrytis (noble rot), needed to produce the best sweet wines.
For more on the 2002 vintage in Austria: