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Germany: A Good Year for Dry and Sweet Wines
By Julia Mann
The string of quality vintages continues in Germany, with vintners expecting to produce a wide variety of high-quality wines in both dry and sweet styles. Following a frost-free spring and a quick flowering season that was over by mid-June, German winegrowers enjoyed a textbook summer of alternating spells of rain and sunshine. After some rainfall in late September, a golden Indian summer in October helped the harvest along.
In general, Germany produced abundant yields. "We have everything this year in Germany from 50 hectoliters per hectare to 200 hectoliters [3.7 to 14.7 tons per acre]," said Armin Diel, owner of Weingut Schlossgut Diel. According to the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweinguter (VDP), a national association of top wine estates in Germany, winegrowers who invested in crop-thinning and hand-harvesting to reduce the yields will be rewarded with outstanding wines.
In the Mosel, the early ripening of the Riesling led to an early harvest, and many of the grapes developed botrytis, or noble rot, which produces very concentrated grapes from which sweet wines are made. "We have a beautiful year again in the Mosel," said Ernst Loosen, owner of Dr. Loosen. "Where the yields are low there are crazy must weights [a measure of grape ripeness indicated by the concentration of sugars in the grape juice]. We have beautiful ripeness and acidity levels.
"On the upper end, our auslese and goldkapsel [some producers put a gold label over the cork to designate their finest bottlings, especially at the spätlese and auslese quality levels] will be much better than 1998 because we have bigger must weights and bigger quantities," continued Loosen. "At the kabinett and spätlese levels, it is a good vintage that will also be pleasant to drink young as the acidity is not too high."
The Rheingau also made the most of the excellent weather during harvest, bringing in very ripe grapes. "The quality is excellent in both the dry and sweet wine categories," said Bernard Breuer, owner of Weingut Georg Breuer. "We really have here one of the best harvests of the nineties."
For Breuer, one of the highlights was a broad range of botrytized wines, including ones from his top vineyards, Berg Schlossberg and Nonnenberg. "I have decided not to harvest any eiswein this year, as the botrytis was so good I felt that we should respect nature and stop there," said Breuer.
The Nahe region experienced an exceptional Pinot harvest. "We have harvested the best Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc of the last 20 years, and the Pinot Noirs will make very, very good wine," enthused Diel. "[The year] is comparable to 1997, which produced splendid red wines in the Nahe." As president of the VDP-Nahe association, Diel confirmed that 1999 will also produce very good spätlese and auslese wines.
In the Pfalz, the weather -- with unusually hot days and nights in September, much like the south of France -- particularly favored the dry wine category. "1999 is the harvest of the century for dry wines, regardless of whether it is the Riesling or Pinots," said Christian von Guradze, of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf. "We have outstanding, rich, dry Rieslings, but it is not a year for dessert wines in the Mittelhaardt [a small vineyard area where some of the Pfalz's top wines are produced]."
Some German producers kept fruit on the vine for eiswein, the very sweet wine made from grapes that have frozen. Usually this harvest takes place in late November, but in mid-November, Diel and Loosen had already harvested some eiswein grapes after the vines had endured overnight temperatures of 18 degrees F.
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