A mixed Harvest in Europe – Harvest 2002: Europe

A mixed Harvest in Europe – Harvest 2002: Europe – top wine producing regions laud 2002 vintages

The following harvest summaries are based on reports from producer or their agents and from European news sources.

Austria

Despite devastating flooding in August, winemakers in Austria are putting a positive spin on the 2002 vintage. In the top wine producing regions, vintners report that the vintage looks promising. Gruner Veltliner, a variety which has become trendy in the United States, looks especially attractive.

Many were able to salvage the harvest by carefully pruning rotted grapes after the floods. The remaining grapes had intense fruit flavors, especially Riesling. Viticulturists said that a policy of extensive shoot thinning before the floods had helped enormously. Also, strong winds after the flooding helped control rot and mildew.

In the red wine region of Burgenland, Pinot noir was said to be exceptional.

Because of the flooding and grapes dropped before the floods, quantity is likely to be down for both white and red grapes, according to most reports.

France

Alsace

After an intense cold in January and a rainy spring, a large crop of good quality grapes was harvested in 2002 in Alsace, according to reports. The harvest was saved by a prolonged heat spell from the beginning of August through a dry September with above average temperatures.

Hugel & Fils reported that with the crop looking very large in July, they undertook a “severe green harvest program” through mid-September. Harvest began on Sept. 30 with good weather conditions. Overall, ripeness levels were excellent for all varieties. At the end of October, strong southern winds led to the harvest of Gewurztraminer at vendange tardive levels (more than 16% potential alcohol).

Bordeaux

A spokesperson for Chateau Mouton Rothschild reports, “From the start of the vegetation cycle, the climatic conditions in 2002 were generally typical of a hot and dry year, with 40% less rainfall and temperatures above average for the last 50 years.” After a period of showery weather in early August, an exceptional Indian summer from Aug. 27 until Oct. 9 brought sunshine that allowed the crop to mature with outstanding potential.

“The result was a small crop, but potentially of very good quality for Cabernet Sauvignon. The first run-offs on Oct. 28 gave deeply colored wine with high levels of natural alcohol and an impressive tannic structure. With this balance, we may be confident of a very fine vintage with considerable aging potential.”

Burgundy

Reports from Burgundy indicate that 2002 will be an exceptional vintage, perhaps on a level with 1990, 1996 and 1999. The winter was cold and the growing season got off to a slow start, but after a warm May, the vines developed quickly. The summer was quite dry and harvest began Sept. 16 under ideal conditions in Cote de Beaune. The reds from the Cote d’Or have an intense color and fruit structure.

In the Chablis region of Burgundy, the grapes had high sugar and acid levels with all indications of an exceptional vintage there.

Henri Jayer, the well-known Vosen-Romanee grower, believes the 2002 reds have tremendous potential, perhaps the best in his 63 years of winemaking.

Champagne

Wines & Vines visited Champagne shortly after the end of the harvest last year. Both growers and producers were very optimistic about the quality of the 2002 harvest, many predicting that it would be a vintage year in Champagne.

The winter was mild and dry and continued dry through May, allowing for perfect flowering. Summer continued dry and warm with harvest beginning on Sept. 16, as in Burgundy. The harvest was very extended, lasting more than three weeks. Grapes came in with good acidity levels and in perfect condition. Claude Tattinger of Champagne Tattinger has compared the 2002 harvest to the 1989, 1990 and 1995 vintages in terms of quality.

Languedoc/Provence

After a long, slow ripening period in the summer, rain arrived in Languedoc at the end of August with major thunderstorms in early September. Winegrowers who were rigorous in grape selection at harvest have produced wines showing good fruit and color. Syrah, however, was often picked early to avoid rot.

In Provence, the harvest was smaller than normal, due to hail in July and low temperatures and rain in August and September. Grapes suffered badly from rot and careful selection was necessary at harvest. The wines show good acidity and it should be a favorable year for roses.

Loire

In the Loire Valley, the 2002 vintage is being highly rated, although crop size is down compared to 2001. The growing season was mostly mild, with little rain and very good weather continued through September. The harvest for Muscadet began on Sept. 16, yielding grapes of high quality.

Sugar and acidity were good throughout the region with little rot. Overall, the crop level was reduced by up to 30%.

Rhone

It was a challenging year for winegrowers in the Rhone Valley. After a dry and warm April and early May, severe hailstorms and lower temperatures resulted in poor fruit set in some regions, especially for Grenache.

More hail hit the southern Rhone in July along with cool weather. There was a heatwave in August and more rain, leading to widespread rot and mildew. September was cold with thunderstorms in the second week which hurt the crop in the south. The north suffered similar conditions.

It was a year when work in the vineyard paid off. Those who reduced yields avoided some rot and it was possible, if your luck was in, to pick a spot between storms to harvest. Those who picked late were rewarded with a few extra days of sunshine. Careful selection was necessary throughout the harvest to avoid rot and mildew.

Overall, the quality is probably slightly better than average, at best.

Germany

The 2002 harvest was mixed in Germany. The summer was dry and warm and by October winemakers were comparing the year to 1971, one of the best vintages in Germany in the past 50 years. Harvest began for some the first week in October, but not for all. A few days later, heavy rains moved in with above average temperatures, which led to the development of rot.

Many growers tried to wait out the rain, but a giant storm hit at the end of October, bringing high winds and hail. Those growers who had picked before the rains have made good wine, otherwise the prospects for Germany are mixed for 2002.

Italy

The Italian 2002 harvest was pretty much a disaster, although alert winegrowers who were willing to deeply cut quantity for quality may have salvaged some reasonable wines, especially in Tuscany.

Pierro Antinori reports that the year got off well, with early spring characterized by rain and slightly above average temperatures, which favored early budding. However, heavy rains during the summer made ripening of the grapes difficult. The rains continued into the harvest, leaving many vineyards with immature grapes on the vine.

Heavy hail in late summer in northern Italy cut the crop size even more and forced many growers and vintners to declassify their wines, selling them as inexpensive table wines.

Overall, it appears to be the worst Italian harvest in the last 50 years. Only a few scattered areas in southern Italy and parts of the Chianti zone were spared the disasters. The Association of Italian Enologists said this year’s harvest will yield just 1.08 billion gallons, down 20% from last year.

Portugal

In the Oporto region, fruit set was late but under dry conditions following a dry winter. The summer remained dry, with only a few showers in late August. Harvest began the week of Sept. 7, but was haired by a week of heavy rains. Another week of good weather followed, but beginning Sept. 28, heavy rain fell continuously and rot began to set in. A report from the Symington Family Port Companies concludes, “Although too early to predict accurately, it seems that some good wines were made early on in the vintage, although those made later are perhaps only of medium standard.”

Spain

Catalonia

Miguel Torres reports that the harvest in the Penedes region was characterized by frequent rains in August and early September, with the result that early maturing varieties (Macabeo, Chardonnay and Tempranillo) were affected by botrytis. Careful selection had to be made at harvest, with losses of 25-30% of the grapes and the grapes were not as mature as usual. In southern Catalonia it was much drier with excellent harvests in the area of the Priorat.

Rioja

It was one of the smallest harvests of the decade in Rioja, about 200 million hectoliters, (1 hectoliter = approx. 26.4 gallons), down 22% from 2001. Extremely low winter temperatures and drought conditions followed by frosts in April damaged the crop. There was also higher than average summer rain, which led to excess berry volume and some rot.

Tom Perry, managing director of the Rioja Wine Exporters in London, commented, “Despite the drop in quantity, initial impressions on the finished wines are that the quality of the harvest looks very good, with excellent structure and aging potential. However, with the uncertainty of the vintage, we prefer to reserve opinion until quality evaluations are completed by the Rioja Regulatory Council in March, 2003.”

Elsewhere in Spain, there was a huge increase in crop size in Ribera del Duero– up almost a third–but also problems with rot. In Rias Baixas in Galacia, a cool and cloudy year led to a vintage of high acidity with low yields and alcohols.

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