Germany's harvest is winding down, after a mixed growing season. The summer months were good to producers, and this streak continued through September. In early October, one winemaker eagerly compared the year to one of the country's best vintages in memory, 1971. Unfortunately, this good luck and fair weather did not last.
The summer saw a combination of rain, wind and sun, reported Günter Thies of Schloss Schönborn in the Rheingau region. Clear, cool nights and sunny days with light winds continued through September. These conditions led to high must weights (a measure of the grape's ripeness -- specifically the dissolved sugar compounds in the juice or must) and ripe, but high, levels of acidity. Harvest began as early as the first week of October for some wineries, but not until the end of the month for others.
"Until early October, the weather was very beneficial for the growth in the vineyards," said Johannes Selbach, winemaker at Selbach-Oster in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. "We had an advantage in growth and physical maturity over the already outstanding 2001 vintage. That advantage was lost in the second half of October."
At the end of the second week of October, it began to rain. The excessive rain, combined with warmer-than-average temperatures, increased the development of rot in the vineyards. Additionally, in the last week of October, a large storm hit, bringing gusts of wind up to 95 miles per hour in some areas and hail in others.
Despite the disappointing weather, most vintners feel that all is not lost. In late September and early October, many producers focused on pre-picking and sorting -- removing any grapes that had been damaged or affected by rot or that were not as ripe as others on the vine. This allows the remaining grape bunches to ripen and develop flavor more quickly, said Selbach.
Pre-picking also prevents the spread of rot in the vineyard, noted Christoph Graf of Reichsrat von Buhl in the Pfalz. Additionally, it permits pickers to quickly harvest the remaining healthy grapes if the weather turns bad, as it did at the end of October.
When the fair weather ended, many wineries had already picked grapes at the minimum ripeness level, QbA, and some had harvested through the kabinett and spätlese levels. Most producers seemed to think that they would be able to harvest grapes for wine at all levels, through the ultraripe trockenbeerenauslese and even eiswein (made by allowing grapes to remain on the vine until they freeze).
Fritz Hasselbach of Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen said, "The vineyard we selected for eiswein still has healthy grapes with no botrytis," which bodes well for these ageable white dessert wines. He added, "I cannot remember such a great situation as these high must weights in combination with high acidity… [It] means good aging potential with fine mineral flavors after fermentation."