just-drinks' round-up of 2004 harvest reports concludes with a review of this year's vintages in Germany and Austria.

GERMANY

The German Wine Institute (Deutsches Weininstitut - DWI) described the weather conditions for the 2004 vintage as excellent: warm enough but not too hot with sufficient occasional rainfall. It also said that a very sunny October had been ideal for the final stage of ripening.

"One could literally taste the increasing sweetness of the grapes from day to day," said Armin Göring, the managing director of the DWI, based in Mainz. "Our expectations with regard to the quality of the 2004 vintage have been more than fulfilled. It is on a par with the excellent vintages of the past three years and an ideal complement to the exceptional 2003 vintage."

The DWI reported that the overall healthy state of the grapes meant that winegrowers could take their time in determining the ideal time to harvest, despite occasional autumn rain and storms. At the same time, the variation between warm daytime and cool night temperatures fostered the development of the grapes' aromas.

With the exception of a few top sites in the Rhine, Mosel and Main river valleys - where grapes were left on the vine until well into November in order to reach the ripeness necessary to yield top-quality and lusciously sweet dessert wines - the grape harvest was completed by early-November.

Not only was the harvest described as excellent in quality terms, the German Wine Institute is anticipating a relatively large vintage. "Cellar stocks are relatively low after last year's small crop. As such, this year's yield of slightly more than the 10-year average of 10m hectolitres is quite welcome and will help ensure market conformity," said Göring. "The prognosis for relatively stable prices is good news for wine lovers."

The first wines of the new vintage were said to be full of fruit and acidity, resembling the 2002 vintage. German red wines also benefited from the long ripening period and are deep in colour, compact and rich in substance.


AUSTRIA

According to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB), difficult weather conditions in 2004 made for extra work for Austrian wine producers, both in the vineyards and in the cellar. But the AWMB said the 2004 wines will carry the producer's stamp more than other years, reflecting the variety of viticultural and vinicultural expertise.

As AWMB director, Michael Thurner, put it: "Vintages with difficult weather conditions are a particular challenge for the wine makers. Especially this year the expertise of the individual producers will be decisive for the quality of the wines."

Sun and rain created very different circumstances across the different wine growing areas. Generally, the vines did not suffer from the lack of hot days, compensated for by a longer, warm maturation period, the AWMB said. The high humidity could be countered with intensive foliage control. The 2004 wines show as "an elegant, classic year with fruit and fine aromas", the AWMB said.

In some regions, the weather in the lead-up to the harvest made for a challenging harvest period, necessitating strict qualitative selection. The wines are very aromatic, show good extract, and are more elegant than powerful - a result of the climatic conditions - with refreshing acidity. The red wines show good varietal character and fruit. The AWMB also said that 2004 could turn out to be a classic year for sweet wines. The 2004 harvest is expected to be in the region of 2.6m hectolitres, in line with the average of the past few years.