Harvest. For winemakers, no other word is loaded with so much potential and anticipation. After a long growing season of endless work in the vineyards, it’s finally time to see what nature delivered. On the West Coast, most vintners are reporting 2013 as a great year, a twin to the promising 2012. In many parts of Europe, however, 2013 marked another vintage of challenging conditions and low yields.
In the final of five 2013 vintage reports, growers in Germany, Austria, Portugal and Spain describe a wet year. A cool, wet spring delayed the growing season and lowered yields. A cool summer ripened the grapes slowly, but in areas where the rain stayed away through autumn, growers could pick ripe, balanced fruit, even though some suffered a wet October. While it’s still to early to draw conclusions about final quality in the bottle, here's a sneak peek of what may lie ahead.
The good news: Good growing conditions for dessert wine
The bad news: Harvest rain in September
Picking started: Late September
Promising regions: Burgenland
Challenging grapes: Grüner Veltliner
Analysis: Austrian vintners faced a variety of weather-related challenges this year, beginning with a cool spring that delayed budbreak. A poor fruit set plagued Austria’s flagship grape, Grüner Veltliner, in key regions such as the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal. One of the hottest summers on record was punctuated by hailstorms that damaged grapes and vineyards. It will be the fourth year in a row of below-average harvest yields.
Fortunately, harvest weather was largely cooperative, especially in the Wachau, where some single-vineyard sites weren’t harvested until November. Count on Riesling to deliver the highest potential quality, so long as winemakers balanced the ripe flavors of botrytis-affected grapes with the wine’s natural acidity and raciness. Tightly focused wines will provide crisp acidity, according to Willi Klinger, managing director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. “I’m particularly excited about what looks like an outstanding sweet wine year,” he said.
The good news: Dense and powerful Riesling with good acidity
The bad news: Mildew and rot affected many vineyards.
Picking started: Mid-October
Promising grapes: Riesling
Challenging grapes: Pinot Noir
Analysis: A very cool spring in Germany’s leading regions led to a mild summer, neither too hot nor too cold. But a lot of rain fell in September, day after day, which led to rot in the vineyards if vintners were not careful. Grapes picked too soon after the rain exhibit unripe flavors and searing acidity. Cooler and drier weather returned in November, halting the spread of rot.
“This year in general was really a year for people that put a lot of work in to their vineyards,” said Nik Weis of St.-Urbans-Hof in the Mosel. “It's a year in which hard-working viticulturists have an advantage. All the additional work—like soil cultivation, fertilizing with manure, cow horn and magnesia limestone, leaf thinning, intelligent treatment of the vines, accurate canopy management—all this paid off.” Weis also noted that he picked at higher residual sugar levels to help offset the grapes' high acidity. “The wines have an enormous tension because of two strong poles, as I call it: the acidity as the plus pole and the high potential residual sugar as a minus pole that comes from the good ripeness,” he added.
Fresh Mencía grapes from Bodegas Godelia in Bierzo, Spain, wait to go into the fermentation vat.
The good news: A wet winter ended a two-year drought in the Douro river valley.
The bad news: A week of rain in the middle of harvest
Picking started: Mid-September in the Douro
Promising grapes: Touriga Nacional
Challenging grapes: Touriga Franca
Analysis: Copious winter rainfall preceded a cool spring and bone-dry summer in Portugal’s Douro river valley, delaying ripening in the vineyards by 10 days. By the third week in September, long-range weather forecasts called for an extended period of rain, leading savvy vintners to accelerate their harvest schedule. This resulted in a split harvest, comprising high-quality grapes picked before a week of rain in early October, and somewhat diluted grapes harvested later.
“The rains starting in the first days of October inevitably caused some minor [dilution] in the second half of the vintage, although with conditions remaining warm and the vines still carrying green leaves, we were able to pick perfectly ripe grapes right up until the third week of October,” said Rupert Symington, managing director of Symington Family Estates, the Douro’s largest vineyard owner. “The Touriga Franca, normally one of our most reliable grapes and the last major varietal to be picked, produced some good results, although perhaps not with the concentration of a classic year such as the 2011.”
The good news: A wet winter relieved drought stress; regions that enjoyed a dry autumn produced healthy, balanced grapes.
The bad news: Cool, wet weather in spring reduced yields; more rain in some regions during fall led to a nerve-wracking harvest.
Picking started: Late August in the South; Early October in Northern areas such as Rioja and Priorat
Promising regions: Dry regions such as Rioja and Toro enjoyed good years.
Challenging regions: Wetter regions such as Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra and Bierzo needed extra care in the vineyards.
Analysis: “2013 was a fascinating year,” said Alvaro Palacios, who makes wine in Rioja, Priorat and Bierzo. “The accumulated rainfall during the winter and spring exceeded all historical statistics from the last decade, raining five times more than normal at that time of year.” In many countries, the abundance of rain would be a cause for concern. But Spain has suffered droughtlike conditions recently, and the soil desperately needed moisture.
The wet, cool spring did cause some problems. Budbreak came late, and some regions saw yields reduced due to rain during flowering. Grapegrowers in wet areas such as Galicia had to work hard to keep mildew out of the vineyards. Toro suffered a frost in April, reducing yields. Thankfully, summer was dry and sunny, and a little cooler than normal. The grapes had plenty of time to ripen fully. “The consequent slow ripening allowed the grapes to achieve a vibrant fruit expression, complex, with a lively acidity combined with perfectly ripened, elegant tannins,” said Manuel Louzada, director at Numanthia in Toro.
Picking Riesling grapes in Germany’s Rheingau region for Schloss Johannisberg