The just-drinks' 2005 Harvest Report from northern hemisphere wine-growing regions concludes with reports from Italy, Germany and Austria.

Italy
The weather hit Italy particularly hard this year, with a disappointing August leading to high hopes for September to help level matters. Unfortunately, the sunshine stayed away, hitting production levels particularly hard.

Until mid-August, everything pointed to an excellent vintage, in spite of the vagaries of the weather. However, the rains and low temperatures in the last weeks of the month altered everything. All hopes rested on a good September, but the sun did not appear, the rains raged and low temperatures prevailed. All these factors resulted in a gradual lowering of the quality estimation for 2005, from excellent to very good. Overall, the forecast was for a good harvest, with only the regions of the south and a handful in the north and centre of the country producing a few peaks.

A total wine and must production of around 47.5m hectolitres is forecast for this year, according to Assoenologi, the Association of Italian Wine Technicians and Oenologists, down 11% from 53.3m hectolitres last year, and also below the five-year average between 2000 and 2004 of 49.7m hectolitres.

"We are, therefore, contemplating a vintage with low quantities but not as low as those of 2002 (44.6m hectolitres) and 2003 (44.1m hectolitres) which were the lowest of the past 10 years," the association said.

The majority of Italian regions will see their harvest totals dip quite substantially. Specifically, Trentino/Alto Adige in the north, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Tuscany will be down by around 20% on 2004, with Veneto falling by as much as 25%. Only the regions of Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia are expected to post increases on 2004, and only a 5% increase at that.

The quality of the harvest has been described by the association as eclectic and variable. Each region in the country appears to have produced as much 'good' and 'mediocre' wine as it has 'excellent'.

Germany
The German Wine Institute reports that the 2005 vintage was about 10% down on 2004 in volume terms but well above average in terms of quality. "This year is unique: seldom has there been such unanimous praise from all 13 wine-growing regions about the quality of the grape crop," said Armin Göring, managing director of the German Wine Institute in Mainz. "The majority of must weights are of Prädikat wine quality and some come very close to those of vintage 2003."

The high quality was attributed to an "extraordinary" amount of sunshine. According to the German Weather Service, the total number of sun hours between March and October exceeded the long-term average for a complete year. Grapes ripened about two weeks ahead of the customary time, and the lack of rain during the harvest meant all the grapes could be gathered quickly. In fact, the harvest ended earlier than usual.

The size of the crop was originally over-estimated and, with growers harvesting selectively, the German Wine Institute is forecasting a total volume of around 9m hectolitres for 2005, 10% down on 2004 and 6% below the 10-year average.

In the Ahr Valley, sunny weather promised an excellent harvest but hail during August is estimated to have reduced the crop by 40%. Meanwhile, in Baden the quantity and quality of the crop was said to be more or less comparable with 2004. In spite of the warmest September ever recorded in Franken, rainfall during the harvest dampened hopes for a "super vintage."

In the famous Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, the harvest began earlier than usual, on 10 October. Weather conditions were said to be optimal for Riesling. Quality overall in the region was said to be high but volume was down 10% from last year. In the Nahe region, production of early-ripening varieties, such as Rivaner, Bacchus, Portugieser, Regent or Dornfelder, was higher than for the later-ripening varieties, such as Riesling and Spätburgunder, which were affected by increasingly damp weather.

The Pfalz region suffered from low water levels, and yields were said to be 25% down on last year. The harvest began two weeks early in the Rheingau and while overall yields were down on the long-term average and 25% lower than 2004, some top-quality sweet wines are expected from the 2005 crop. Volumes in Germany's largest wine-producing region, Rheinhessen, were reported to be considerably lower than 2004, at around 2.5m hls, but the red wines of the 2005 vintage were said to be on a par with the top growths of 2003.

The only regions to produce a bigger harvest than last year were the Saale and Unstrut valleys, with volumes up by about 10% on last year. In Württemberg, the 2005 harvest was said to be between the 2003 and 2004 vintages in terms of both quantity and quality.

Austria

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) has described 2005 as a difficult vintage, beginning with slow, irregular blossoming in the spring, hampered by cold periods, and a disappointing summer. Ripening was said to be only "satisfactory", and rains in early-August and September caused problems with rot. "Indian Summer" conditions for the whole of October helped to raise sugar content but for some grape varieties, the warm weather came too late.

The 2005 vintage will be substantially below the long-time average of 2.5m hectolitres, with total volumes for 2005 currently being estimated at around 2m hectolitres.

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board describes the 2005 white wines as "highly aromatic", displaying "a mellow fruit expression as well as clear varietal typicity". Rainfall made life difficult for growers but the good weather in October has produced full-bodied Grüner Veltliner and Riesling wines. In some cases, however, acidity was lower than usual and certainly below 2004 levels. Accurate selection in the vineyard and in some cases early harvesting helped to mitigate some of the worst effects of high rainfall but rot damage could not be avoided for certain varieties such as Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder and Chardonnay.

Damage from rain was also a threat to the red varieties and the only option for Zweigelt and early-ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir and St Laurent was to reduce quantity through grape selection. Late-ripening varieties like Blaufränkisch and Cabernet were less affected, the AWMB said, although the ripening cycle was too short-lived to achieve the high ripeness levels of previous years. The AWMB described the 2005 reds as "charming and balanced with a slim structure, delicate fruit and medium tannins", adding that many would be suitable for drinking young.