2010 Vintage Report: Europe

A first look at vintage quality in European wine regions, with eyewitness reports from growers and winemakers
Nov 19, 2010

In 2010, winemakers across most of western Europe watched as a cool, wet spring reduced yields. But after the rain, Spain enjoyed a cool summer that allowed the fruit that survived to ripen gradually and gracefully. The story was the same in northeast Italy, while in Piedmont the grapes ripened, but the wines may be less powerful than recent vintages. Tuscan vintners faced mildew challenges all season, and in Austria the rain never stopped.

Austria
Germany
Italy: Northeast
Italy: Piedmont
Italy: South
Tuscany & Central Italy
Portugal
Spain

Austria

Austrian grapegrowers faced difficult conditions in 2010. After a wet, cool spring, flowering came a month later than normal and was followed by a difficult fruit set. Conditions improved in July thanks to warm, dry weather. But unfortunately, a steady period of rain arrived, dramatically cutting yields and driving up the price of the remaining grapes for wineries that purchase fruit.

The damp weather meant growers had to be especially diligent in combating outbreaks of mildew and other maladies. More cool, rainy weather in September further complicated an already problematic vintage; many vintners decided to start picking rather than wait any longer. It proved a good call, because wet weather returned at the end of October.

“This year's quantity is lower than the total normal wine consumption in Austria,” says Josef Pleil, president of the Austrian Viticulture Association. “It is especially dramatic for white wine, because there is none in stock at present due to the low harvest also in 2009.”

“The price of grapes doubled, even tripled this year,” says Gerhard Wohlmuth, head of the wine and spirit trade committee at the Wirtschaftskammer Österreich (WKÖ), the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. “It is inevitable that the price increases will at least partially be passed on to the customer.”

Austrian vintners were bracing for a tough sales environment. “There will be a loss of market share, especially in the entry level price segment,” says Willi Klinger, head of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. “And for 2011, for the first time, we're not expecting any growth in export volume."

But while yields may be down, the Austrians are finding solace in the high quality of the fruit that survived. "In any case, it is very pleasing that, from this year's low harvest quantity, we can expect wines with outstanding fruitiness and pure aromas," says Klinger.

—Kim Marcus

Germany

Extremely low yields, ripe grapes and high acidity are the hallmarks of the best of 2010's Riesling crop in Germany.

Yields were reduced, by 20 percent in some vineyards to as much as 60 percent in others. During spring flowering, many vines suffered from either coulure, when some berries never form, or millerandage, when clusters include tiny, infertile grapes among the normal berries. Also, wet weather in August triggered the growth of botrytis, and conscientious growers removed some bunches just before harvest to allow the remaining grapes to ripen fully and remain healthy. Finally, cool, dry winds at the beginning of the harvest in early October also dehydrated the grapes slightly. Acidity was naturally high due to the cool weather leading up to the harvest.

The good news is that quality, though it will be variable, shows good potential. The botrytis was clean, resulting in some auslese, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese selections. The low yield will also give the Rieslings density to buffer the high acidity.

At his estate in the Pfalz, Rainer Lingenfelder picked grapes over a four-week period from Sept. 13 to Oct. 9. “The acidity levels were of some concern as they were all over 10 grams per liter. I have not seen such a consistently high acidity in the Pfalz before,” he says.

Nik Weis, proprietor of St.-Urbans-Hof in the Mosel Valley, isn’t concerned about the level of acidity in his young wines. “Thanks to the enormous concentration of the juice and the good ripeness, the sensory impression is very good,” he says. “One might think that the acidity would stand out at such an analytically high level but that’s not the case. These wines have everything. With this amount of concentration in combination with a high but ripe acidity I believe they will age forever.”

Under such conditions, growers needed to work hard to obtain ripe grapes with good potential for the multiple styles of Riesling. “We divided clusters in July, conducted a green harvest in August, removed foliage from the shady side of vines, and did everything possible to help prevent fungus infestation,” says Annegret Reh-Gartner, owner of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, also in the Mosel Valley. “It’s precisely years like this that confirm the importance of selective harvesting by hand in steep sites.”

In the Rheingau, Schloss Johannisberg made Riesling at all quality levels, from QbA to TBA, with the exception of eiswein, according to estate director Christian Witte. “Despite the difficulties in the year, the average quality will be much better than expected,” he says. “There will be a lot of differences in quantities—even inside the Rheingau it differs by 15 to 60 percent less than a regular harvest. The prices will of course go up, by how much is not clear yet."

Bruce Sanderson

Italy: Northeast

Italian winemakers in the northeastern areas of Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Fruili-Venezia Giulia seem optimistic about the 2010 harvest. Although, as Valpolicella winemaker Romano Dal Forno says, “As an introductory statement I would say that the vintage was not easy.” Mother Nature dealt no disasters, but rain and below-average temperatures at several points meant there was no smooth sailing. Several winemakers described their young 2010 wines as offering heightened aromatics and elegance, rather than power.

After a cold winter and cool spring, flowering and fruit set were later than usual in some areas. Although June and July brought some hot, sunny days, August's weather was cooler and wetter than usual.

Alto Adige experienced the best weather of the season during harvest. Elena Walch, of her eponymous winery, called September and October's conditions “just perfect.” Dr. Urban von Klebelsberg of Abbazia di Novacella agreed. “There were fine differences in temperature between the days and nights,” he says, a key element for ripening the grapes while preserving acidity.

Both Friuli and the Veneto saw cooler weather in September and October, with a mix of sun and clouds. While this posed some challenges for harvesting, in the long run it allowed the grapes to ripen gradually.

Yields were down slightly for most producers, although for different reasons in each area. Hans Terzer of St.-Michael-Eppan in Alto Adige reports about 15 percent lower yields, due to smaller berries after July’s heat. In Fruili-Venezia Giulia, cold weather in winter and spring hampered fruit set. In the Veneto, both Dal Forno and staff at Giuseppe Quintarelli reported that an abundance of rain caused the vines to be overly vigorous, producing an abundance of fruit, which was severely sorted, reserving only the best fruit going into their Amarones.

The strength of the vintage may be the white wines. “[The whites] are showing lovely minerality and complexity with an average alcohol a little lower than last year,” says Lamberto Frescobaldi, winemaker at Attems winery in Collio (and several Tuscan properties).

Nadia Zenato, whose family winery has vineyards in Lugana and Valpolicella concurred. “The 2010 white wines are fresher, with a floral sensation thanks to the good acidity.”

But the reds are not to be dismissed. “[The grapes] ripened more because of the affect of the light of the sun rather than its heat," says Marilisa Allegrini of Allegrini in Valpolicella. "And [they] will probably excel in terms of elegance and finesse rather than being powerful or rich in texture and extract.”

Alison Napjus

Italy: Piedmont

Piedmont saw a rainy, cool growing season in 2010. While most producers were happy with their young wines, they say extra diligence was needed in the vineyards and that the wines are more elegant than powerful this year.

Spring and summer brought alternating periods of rain and sun. Rain during flowering reduced the crop somewhat. There was also localized hail in parts of Serralunga d’Alba in April, La Morra in May and Barbaresco in June. The crop at Massolino was reduced by 40 to 50 percent.

In mid-August, rain and fog settled in the area and producers grew concerned about quality. August was also colder than average, but after the middle of the month, the weather improved. September and October were warm and dry. As a result, the late-ripening Nebbiolo responded.

“In the end, the acid, sugar & polyphenols ripened together,” says Manuel Marchetti, proprietor and winemaker at Marcarini. Overall, most growers were pleased with the quality of Nebbiolo in Barolo and Barbaresco. At Giacomo Conterno, Roberto Conterno finished picking the Nebbiolo on Oct. 22. Despite the potential quality of the fruit, he proceeded carefully during maceration, pumping over less and more gently.

In Asti, enologist Gianluca Torrengo of Prunotto felt the rain prevented the grapes from getting perfectly ripe. Dr. Norbert Reinisch of Braida compared it to typical harvests of the 1980s and ’90s, with less heat than most post-2000 vintages.

In Dogliani, an area specializing in Dolcetto, winemakers at both Luigi Einaudi and Pecchenino were pleased with the ripeness and quality.

Overall, the quality will be inconsistent from area to area in Piedmont, with wines generally higher in acidity. Nebbiolo will have firmer tannins. “It was a vintage like 20 years ago,” says Gaia Gaja. “The major difference in quality depended on the vineyard exposure, with south facing being the best, how the grower worked in the vineyard and how much you green harvested.”

—B.S.

Italy: The South

A cool, rainy start to the season provided mixed results across the southern half of Italy in 2010. Some wineries, especially those in Campania, worked through intermittent rain that lasted well into October, while those located in the southernmost regions recovered, as hot, dry weather arrived in mid-August and lasted through harvest.

Campanian winemakers struggled with the worst of the weather. “It was the most difficult vintage, and particularly harvest, since 2006 and one of the most difficult in the last 10 years,” says Antonio Capaldo, president of Feudi di San Gregorio. Rain throughout spring and summer created serious problems. Ilaria Petitto, whose family owns Donnachiara, says they battled both hail and peronospera, or downy mildew, a fungal disease that occurs in high humidity and delays ripening.

The sun finally arrived for three weeks in September and created a narrow window of opportunity to harvest ripe Merlot and Falanghina, one of the region’s three main white varietals. Rains returned at the beginning of October, hampering the harvest of the later-ripening Greco and Fiano, as well as the region’s top red, Aglianico. Capaldo expects his best wines to come from higher altitude vineyards and says those winemakers who tended to their vineyards can expect good quality with high acidity.

In Puglia, Francesco Domini, general manager of Tormaresca, says the vintage is characterized by two phases. “Up to July it was a ‘cold’ vintage, while August and beginning of September were typical of a ‘hot’ vintage.”

The cool start, Domini says, delayed harvest of the early-ripening Primitivo and Chardonnay, which kept acidity levels up. But, he adds, the hot weather leading into harvest helped the grapes develop richness and depth. Late-ripening varietals such as Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon and Negroamaro were influenced more by the hotter second half of the season. “The wines are characterized by a rich and complex aromatic profile, ripe tannins and lower acidity that makes them soft and rich," says Domini.

Alessio Planeta of his family’s namesake winery in Sicily turned in the most optimistic report. “The summer began with cooler temperatures until the middle of August, when temperatures rose to assist perfect ripening,” he says. The cool weather, he adds, helped produced well-balanced whites, while the reds are fruity, yet distinctive and aromatic. “Maybe 2010 will be one of the best vintages, but it’s early to say. Certainly [it’s] a super vintage.”

—Nathan Wesley

Italy: Tuscany & Central Italy

Like many areas in Europe, weather patterns in Tuscany forced growers to be on their toes throughout the season. Careful vineyard management, strict selection of grapes at harvest and patience were necessary. The style of wines seems to be one of elegance and finesse rather than ripeness and power.

“Where it was possible to get ripe fruit and healthy fruit, we had an excellent result,” says Renzo Cotarella, managing director of Antinori. But in vineyards suffering from mildew or Botrytis, strict selection was the rule. “Where the grapes and vineyards were properly managed, we had concentrated, clean, intense must."

The year began with a cold, damp winter, followed by a rainy spring. Flowering was tardy, about 10 to 15 days later than average. Though July was sunny and dry, the vines never really caught up, resulting in a late veraison and a delayed harvest. Conditions were similar in Umbria and Marche.

Though September was warm and dry, the grapes had a lot of catching up to do and it was important not to pick too early, when tannins were not properly mature. Many estates harvested into October. At Tenute dell’Ornellaia, general manager Leonardo Raspini says that harvest finished on October 13th. The Merlot for Masseto was picked October 4th, the latest ever.

Bolgheri experienced rain during harvest, but in the Maremma the rains fell mainly in the spring. There were problems throughout Tuscany with rot, especially with thin-skinned Sangiovese. That made selection in 2010 more important than in 2008 or 2007.

At Ornellaia, yields were average. Giovanni Manetti, owner of the Fontodi estate in Chianti Classico reported 20 percent lower yields, while at Prelius in the Maremma, the crop was half the normal size, according to proprietor Federica Mascheroni Stianti.

In the end, it appears that 2010 is a vintage driven by fruit. There will be some successes, but not everywhere. “Maybe the peak of quality is less and the style is more elegant, with finesse more than body,” says Cotarella. “Even the polyphenols aren’t as high, but refined, with plenty of fruit, good color and low pH because 2010 was cool.” He added that the Sangiovese was the best ever in Montalcino and excellent at Tignanello.

“I think that the quality will be not very homogeneous all around Italy and Tuscany," says Manetti. "But in some areas and for those vintners focused on the good management of the vineyards, 2010 is a great vintage."

—B.S.

Portugal

The heat was on in Northern Portugal in 2010. Vintners in the Douro Valley reported the third vintage in a row dominated by very hot summer weather. The native Portuguese grape varieties thrive under such conditions, though the best vintages are characterized by more moderate and cooler conditions that are conducive to firmer structures and better flavors in the table wines. Port producers are not expecting a declared year for Vintage Port.

But the vines were able to weather the heat due to an exceptionally damp winter, with rainfall well above average. The abundance came after three years of drought, and the vines were able to tap the replenished water tables during the summer heat. Indeed, nary a drop of rain fell in the Douro in July and August. Many vines shut down phenolic maturation during this period, and harvest was delayed. September showers helped bring the vines back to life.

Touriga Nacional, perhaps the most important Portuguese red variety, fared well, but late ripening varieties such as Touriga Franca were problematic. Overall, yields were up in comparison to recent years, which were marked by more severe heat and drought.

“As things stand we are quite pleased with quality in general," says Rupert Symington of Symington Family Estates, the Douro’s largest vineyard owner. "The main disappointment comes from the Touriga Franca, which, even though picked quite late, didn't ever reach the baume levels [a measure of grape sugars] that we would expect from this varietal. The Nacional and the Barroca, on the other hand, produced some very good wines earlier in the harvest,”

“I think it will be a very good year for the DOC's, and probably a 'single Quinta,' rather than a classic vintage year for Port, but things can change quite a lot over the winter,” he adds.

François Lurton, the France-based globe-trotting vintner, owns two estates in the Douro—Quinta do Malhô and Quinta Beira Douro—where he makes table wines. His evaluation of the vintage was similar to Symington’s. “They say that the last three years were the hottest in the last 80 years in the Douro. The vines suffered and the ripening process became blocked in the hottest periods," he says. "Our old vines, which represent 80 percent of the vines in our two Quintas, knew how to handle these difficult periods very well thanks to their very developed root system."

"The first red grapes to be harvested were very aromatic, with reasonable levels of potential alcohol, good acidity levels and skins high in the all important polyphenols,” he added.

—K.M.

Spain

Like many parts of Western Europe, Spain experienced a cool growing season in 2010. But since the country is one of the hottest and driest in the region, the cool weather was a boon, allowing fruit to gradually ripen. Bodegas in the Northern part of the country believe their wines will taste ripe, but show elegance as well.

The stage was set for this year's growing season last harvest, when a frost in Rioja dropped the leaves off the vines while fruit was still being picked. "Winter was very cold and very wet," says Jorge Muga, of Bodegas Muga. "Old growers were saying this is the weather we used to have 50 years ago. When you have such a cold winter, you may enjoy a great vintage because the cold kills vine pests and there is enough water reserves in the subsoil for the growing season."

In both Rioja and Ribera del Duero, rainstorms during flowering reduced yields. Muga says their older vineyards had the lowest yields he has seen, but the small amounts made ripening easier and the loose bunches helped prevent mildew. Further west, in Toro and Rueda, a May frost also reduced potential yields.

"July and August were warm and dry," says Manuel Louzada, bodega director at Numanthia in Toro. "Temperatures started to drop at the beginning of September, allowing a very smooth accumulation of sugars and polyphenols. It all allowed the grapes to achieve outstanding concentration combined with perfect acidity and powerful, mature tannins."

The end of the season was similarly perfect in Rioja. "Summer was dry and warm with an excellent contrast of temperatures between day and night," says Muga. "The harvest was done in good conditions and the first fermentations developed a great aroma."

Even Galicia, which can suffer from extreme humidity, enjoyed a long dry summer, and bodegas were reporting record yields. In Ribera, José Manuel Ortega of O. Fournier says the lack of summer heat waves and autumn frosts made his work much easier this year. "This harvest has the potential to be an iconic one in Ribera. We are expecting great intensity, acidity and lower than average alcohol levels."

—Mitch Frank

More Harvest Report 2010

See More

2010 Vintage Report: France

Nov 18, 2010

2010 Vintage Report: United States

Nov 17, 2010

Harvest Austria Germany Italy Portugal Spain 2010 Harvest Report 2010 News

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