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Germany: Golden October Results in Excellent Harvest

The vintage is potentially outstanding for everything from kabinett to TBA, although quantities are lower than average.

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: January 3, 2002

 
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The mood among growers was very upbeat after the completion of the 2001 harvest in several of Germany's important wine regions, where Rieslings were made in a full range of dry and sweet styles. Although many wines had not completed fermentation, healthy grapes, low yields, and a combination of ripeness and fine acidity suggest a potentially outstanding vintage. The only drawback is that quantities are 25 to 30 percent lower than average.

Three weeks of rain in September threatened the final outcome; however, the lack of maturity in the grapes at the time prevented the spread of rot. The excellent dry, warm weather in October eventually left its mark, allowing growers to harvest grapes at all levels of ripeness, from kabinett to trockenbeerenauslese (TBA).

While botrytis affected some vineyards, the beneficial fungus (which forms on grapes, concentrating their sugars and resulting in very sweet wines) was not as prevalent as usual, perhaps limiting the number of TBAs made.

Most estates finished the harvest in mid-November, although grapes still hung on the vines late in the year with the hope that the winter would bring temperatures cold enough to produce eiswein.

In the Rheingau region, Gunter Künstler of Franz Künstler winery in Hochheim compared 2001 with 1990 -- a "classic" year of powerful, harmonious wines -- in both quality and character.

At the other end of the region, in Rüdesheim, Bernhard Breuer of Georg Breuer said that despite the lower levels of botrytis, "I haven't seen these levels of ripeness and acidity since 1971." In fact, the weather was so fine in October that his crew harvested in t-shirts, something Breuer hasn't witnessed since 1983.

Estates in the Middle Mosel region echoed the confidence expressed in the Rheingau. Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster stated, "In 2000, you really had to select to make good wines; in 2001 the fruit was just there grinning at you." Selbach added that the quantities were lower due to thick grape skins and plenty of pulp, which resulted in less juice after pressing.

Ernst Loosen of Dr. Loosen said the vintage bore some resemblance to 1971, one of the top vintages of the century with its "shining acidity and very healthy grapes." He said the 2001 harvest was delayed about ten days in October waiting for acidity levels to drop and physiological ripeness to increase.

In the Rheinhessen, Fritz Hasselbach, co-owner of Gunderloch was also very pleased. "It was a lot easier harvest than 2000. We had a lot of rain in September, but we could wait. We started October 10 with the Riesling harvest, and we had three or four wonderful weeks. I tasted some of the dry wines at the end of fermentation, and they had a wonderful bouquet -- very clean aromas and flavors."

Producers in the Pfalz called 2001 a very good year, with good structure in a range of wines. Hans-Gunther Schwarz, cellarmaster at M¸ller-Catoir, made beerenauslese and TBA, while Rainer Lingenfelder, whose Lingenfelder estate is in the northern Pfalz, harvested fine kabinetts and spätlesen from healthy fruit. But he felt 2001 wasn't quite as good as 1999, saying, "I wouldn't call it exceptional, but it's a very good year."

In the Nahe, Werner Schönleber of Emrich-Schönleber made a range of kabinett and spätlese, but he noted that yields were 10 percent to 20 percent lower than normal, and the fermentations were proceeding very slowly.

For Helmut Dönnhoff of H. Dönnhoff, 2001 was excellent. The grapes were not ripe when the rains came, as a result of the Nahe's cooler climate, providing enough protection from rot. Then came the golden October.

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