The 2006 German wine harvest was smaller than had been forecast because of heavy autumnal rain, writes Ben Cooper, but on a par with the average for the past five years, while the 2006 Austrian wines are said to be well balanced with excellent ageing potential.

Germany

Heavy autumn rainfall, particularly in the south of the Rheingau region, meant picking had to be completed more quickly than usual, but this does not appear to have compromised the overall quality of the 2006 harvest, according to the German Winegrowers Association (DWV).
 
"The extreme rainfall made things a little difficult for winegrowers in some areas, but overall we are happy with the condition of the grapes, particularly with regard to their ripeness levels," says DWV president Norbert Weber. "Record must weights of over 200° Oechsle were achieved; which will mean that we will see a large number of Prädikat level wines."
 
Meanwhile, the German Wine Institute (DWI) is expecting the 2006 vintage to deliver "full-flavoured wines with pronounced minerality and a fresh and harmonious balance between fruit and acid".  The reds, in particular, are expected to be of a high quality, showing richness in both colour and body, according to the DWI.

However, the high autumnal rain resulted in an overall reduction in volume from what had been forecast as winemakers had to harvest more selectively to avoid rotten or unripe grapes. The crop is expected to be around 9m hls, on a par with last year, but below the five-year average of 9.7m hls.

The Ahr region suffered less rainfall than more southerly regions and the harvest began - with the Frühburgunder - in early-September, finishing by mid-October. The total yield will be in the region of 440,000 hls, acidity levels were moderate and producers in the region are generally satisfied with both the quality and quantity of the 2006 harvest.

However, volumes were down by around 12% from last year in the Baden region at 1.1m hls, though producers in the region expect 2006 to produce around 40% more premium wines than in a usual year. "The young wines are well structured with moderate acidity and fine fruit aromas; the Pinot wines are showing particularly good potential," the DWI states.

Volumes in the MittelRhein region are expected to be significantly up on last year at 35,000hl, while the harvest in the Franken region is forecast to come in at around 470,000 hls. The DWI says that volumes in the Nahe region are on a par with 2005.
 
High humidity forced an early harvest in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, where volumes will be significantly down on 2005 at 850,000 hls. Average must weights were between 90° and 100° Oechsle, but growers in the region expect 2006 to produce some very good sweet wines.

The yield in the Pfalz region was also lower than usual at 2.1m hls, owing to heavy thunderstorms and selective harvesting. Nevertheless, the DWI says "a high quality vintage is expected with wines promising to be fruit driven, fresh and well structured".
 
Must weights averaged around 90° Oechsle in the Rheingau, which resulted in more than half of production being destined for premium wines. Auslese and Beerenasulese wines will be in plentiful supply, says the DWI, while the overall harvest will be slightly up on 2005, at 240,000hls. In the Rheinhessen, the DWI expects "high quality, elegant white wines with good varietal character", while the reds, which benefited from the warm September weather, will be "full-bodied and deep in colour". Lastly, in Württemberg the harvest is down by around 10% at 1.0m hls, as a result of selective picking, but the reds are said to be of high quality.

Austria

Austrian wine producers have been effusive about the quality of the 2006 harvest. Across every region, sugar levels are generally high but the wines are said by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) to be well balanced with equally generous natural acidity, which should boost their ageing potential. However, overall volumes are expected to be slightly lower than average, at around 2.2m to 2.3m hls.

Weather conditions were unpredictable. Austria had a very long and damp winter, followed by a spring that was just as wet and not very warm. The weather warmed up in mid-June, during the flowering, which came rather late, and this was followed by a very hot period lasting until the end of July. Cooler and rainy weather followed in August, particularly in the northern regions, but during the harvest months of September and October the weather was generally warm, dry and sunny. The warm September temperatures ensured that sugar levels increased quickly.

The AWMB says coulure, the natural phenomenon whereby some berries do not develop, was a feature of the 2006 vintage to varying degrees across all regions owing to low temperatures or rain during the flowering period. However, the AWMB stressed that this can be a positive factor for the quality of the grapes that do reach maturity as it helps reduce susceptibility to fungi and disease.

Overall the AWMB says that the unpredictable weather in 2006 has demanded meticulous vineyard care but sound vineyard management was repaid with grapes that are healthy, ripe and of high quality.

Looking region by region, in Lower Austria (Niederösterreich), the traditional varieties in the Thermenregion area - Zierfandler and Rotgipfler - show ideal balance of sugar and acidity, as do the Burgundy varieties, the AWMB reports. August rains did not affect the Pinot Noir and Sankt Laurent because the berries were still relatively hard at that time.

The AWMB says it has also received positive reports from growers about this year's harvest in the Kremstal, Traisental and Donauland/Wagram and Wachau areas, while 2006 promises to be a particularly good year in Kamptal, where drying soils in September as well as cool nights following warm days were highly beneficial for aroma structure. Good quality wines from smaller yields are expected in the Weinviertel, though frosts caused some problems in the northern part of the region.

While some rot was seen in the Vienna (Wien) region at the beginning of September, fine weather later in the month prevented this becoming a major problem, and the grapes harvested were healthy and ripe, the AWMB says.

In Burgenland, the wine-growing areas in the east had less rain than those in the west, and the harvest was referred to as "a good, normal average". Overall, harvest conditions for both white and red varieties proved ideal. Around Lake Neusiedl (the Neusiedlersee), as well as in the south of the region, the widely grown Blaufränkisch variety showed "fine quality in colour and taste", with ideal pH levels and "remarkable ripeness", according to the AWMB. A good year for sweet wines is also anticipated in Burgenland.

In Styria (Steiermark), an Adriatic depression towards the end of September caused heavy rainfall in the west of the region, which increased the risk of rot, making meticulous grape selection necessary. The Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon (Chardonnay) show "exceptional flavours", says the AWMB, while the Gelber Muskateller and Welschriesling are proving "highly aromatic and balanced", thanks to ideal temperature differences between day and night.