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Germany and Austria: Unusual Weather Highlights the Two Countries' Differences

Posted: January 2, 2001

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Germany and Austria: Unusual Weather Highlights the Two Countries' Differences

By Darrel Joseph

Because Austria and Germany are geographical neighbors and share the same language, their wines are often assumed to be the same. But both countries underwent complicated harvests in 2000, and the unusual weather patterns that marked the vintage will likely highlight the unique characteristics of Austrian and German wines.

Both countries had an unseasonably warm spring, which caused budbreak and flowering to take place two to three weeks earlier than usual. In Germany, the warmth continued throughout the summer, with temperatures hovering in the mid- to upper-70s. Red and white grapes enjoyed a long ripening period, and harvest began three weeks early as the grapes had reached maturity.

But high amounts of rainfall in July and August spawned plenty of undesirable gray rot; thin-skinned varieties, such as Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Sp¿tburgunder (Pinot Noir), suffered the most. Fortunately, the country's showcase grape, Riesling, didn't fare as badly, thanks to its sturdy skin.

Vintners dealt with the difficulties before harvesttime by extensive crop-thinning, sometimes picking and discarding rot-infected grapes around the clock.

"This was one of the most expensive harvests in a long time," said Peter Pauly, head of Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler, an estate in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. "The costs of the labor, because so much of it was necessary, were intensive."

The crop-thinning reduced yields significantly -- especially for Spätlese and Auslese wines, as many fresh grapes were picked at the lower Kabinett level of ripeness -- but quality seems right on target.

"We produced a maximum of 45 hectoliters per hectare (3.3 tons per acre) of Riesling this year," said Jochen Becker-Köhn, marketing and export manager at Robert Weil, in the Rheingau. "Last year, the maximum was 55 hectoliters per hectare (4 tons per acre). But the must concentrations from both harvests have shown similar components: good acidity, high extract and a lot of fruit."

Pauly added that "the 2000 vintage [in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer] will be a combination of the 1995, 1996 and 1998 vintages, with Rieslings showing a high mineral and slate taste and good sugar- free extract."

In contrast, Austria experienced a long, hot, dry summer, with temperatures in the Burgenland region hitting 100 degrees F in late August. Even in the hilly Wachau region, where cool nights help yield highly aromatic and racy, dry whites, such as Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the harvest began three weeks ahead of schedule, in early September.

Small berries with thick skins were a common sight in the vineyards, due to the excessive heat and even droughtlike conditions in some areas. But this had many vintners pleased. "Our vineyards have yielded around 15 to 20 percent less wine than they did last year," said Anton Bodenstein, who runs Prager, in the Wachau. "But this year's wines are more complex and full."

"The acidity is just a bit lower than last year, but the result is wonderful," said Fritz Miesbauer, manager at the Freie Weingärtner Wachau cooperative winery. The Gr¿ner Veltliner will be perfect."

While white wine producers are happy, makers of reds are ecstatic. Varieties such as Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon benefited greatly from the sun-drenched summer. As with the white grapes, the berries were generally smaller and the yields lower than normal, but the quality appears phenomenal.

"The grapes are loaded with concentration," said Andi Kollwentz, winemaker at R¿merhof winery, in the Burgenland. "There is full, ripe fruit and lots of extract and ripe tannins. No one is going to believe that some of these red wines are from Austria."

As of early December, in both Austria and Germany, few grapes had been affected by noble rot, which helps produce the countries' outstanding Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese dessert wines. Because the year's unusual weather left growers scrambling to harvest as many fresh grapes as possible, there simply were not many grapes left to develop the Botrytis cinerea fungus.

Some producers, such as Robert Weil in Germany and Heidi Schr¿ck, who produces one of Austria's famed Ausbruch style wines, have managed to make limited quantities of their sweet wines. But it remains to be seen whether anyone will produce any eiswein. Robert Weil is ready; the estate has almost 5 acres of grapes wrapped in foil (to protect them from rain and hungry birds), waiting for the temperature to dip below freezing.

Read the The 1999 Harvest Report and Germany: A Good Year for Dry and Sweet Wines

Read recent reports on Germany and Austria:

  • Jan. 31, 2000
    In Other Regions

  • Feb. 28, 1999
    Austrian Excitement

  • Feb. 28, 1999
    The New Golden Age of Riesling

  • Jan. 31, 1999
    The 1998 Harvest Report

  • Feb. 28, 1998
    Foreign Names, Friendly Wines

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