Just-drinks Harvest Report - Part Three

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Just-drinks Harvest Report - Part Three

0Over half way through our annual Northern Hemisphere harvest round up, just-drinks this week travels from Spain to California, whilst also taking in the latest on the Austrian crop. 

Generally speaking, it's thumbs up across Spain this year. And while the volume may not have reached the heights of the massive 2000 vintage, quality is considered to be good, with some regions already seeing 2001 as a potentially great year.

Rioja saw another large vintage and the region enjoyed almost perfect sunny conditions during the summer months. Early talk is of excellent quality and even the most cautious of the bodegas are quietly confident.

Campo de BorjaRibera, always frost-prone, saw 40% of the crop wiped out in April, but early reports are suggesting that though volume is down on 2000, the quality is better thanks to a perfect vegetative cycle (post-frost!) The situation was similar in Campo de Borja (down 50%) and Calatayud (down 30%) but like their Riberan colleagues winemakers are pleased with the overall quality.

Excessive heat was Navarra's problem. A fortnight of high temperatures at the start of September prompted many firms to pick early. In theory, it was a good year but picking times will dictate who will make the best quality wines. La Mancha had a traditionally large, but not excessive, crop notable for the continuing fall in white grapes and the start of new plantings of red grapes coming on stream.

It was good news in Galicia, the only DO in Spain not to have enjoyed a massive vintage in 2000. This year the region not only had volume but healthy grapes. Rueda, which suffered the same high temperatures as Navarra, was slightly less enthusiastic. There's volume and decent quality but wines may show the effects of excessive heat.

Though it is too early to say precisely what impact this will have on pricing it is unlikely that we'll see any massive price hikes. Volume in Spain is going up, but value is going down as the economy falters. With some regions (Rioja and Ribera in particular) still sitting on high-priced joven from the 1999 vintage the inference is that prices of wines from both regions will be held at current levels. And where Rioja leads, the rest of Spain follows. In normal circumstances an up-and-coming region like Jumilla would have pushed prices up thanks to a big and good-quality vintage, but circumstances in Rioja means it has to hold fire. Good news for the buyer -and consumer.

Dave Broom

0You need luck on your side if you're a farmer or food grower.  At the end of a hot, dry August, Austrian grape growers were delighted with their harvest, most reporting that the ripening was two weeks earlier than usual. The early grapes (Zweigelt and Blauerportugieser - red - and Müller Thurgau and Bouvier - white) were safely stowed and their new wine, Heurigen (sold ready to drink from 11th November) was in production. All were looking forward to a dry and warm September and October and a repeat of the outstanding 2000 harvest.

But no! 

"Sunshine turned to rain; and rain; and wind and rain"
Sunshine turned to rain; and rain; and wind and rain. In some places there were three weeks of constant down-pouring, cascading as much as 150mm. The obliging soil, however, managed to soak up this deluge and the wind helped to stem any rot. In September, then, the growers and winemakers still felt that, with continual sunshine until the third week in October, the later ripening grapes that produce the more serious reds, whites and sweets, would still be able to achieve sufficient sugar-levels and flavour ripeness to deliver a good quality harvest.

And so far the sun has shone on smiling producers and healthy fruit.  The red and white grapes being harvested now should produce wine with alcohol levels of 12o to 14o and a similar structure and style to the 1999 vintage. 

The sweet wine grapes have also come good and are heavily affected with botrytis cinerea (noble rot). Alois Kracher (star winemaker of sweets) is currently picking, convinced that his wine will have similar sugar and acidity levels to the '99.  Fingers crossed for the later-picked grapes for the ice wine - and for the next vintage

Martin Isark

Growers and winemakers on California's North Coast and elsewhere are comparing the infant wines of the 2001 vintage to the outstanding vintage of 1997, while hailing an expected 6% drop in tonnage, which is regarded as good news in the face of fears of a wine glut as new vineyards come into production.

On the quality side, John Garvey a partner and vineyard manager at Flora Springs Winery in Napa said the young Cabernet and Merlot wines are showing great intensity and good colour. "The wines remind me of the 1997 vintage, except this year the crop was smaller," he said.

An April frost in many areas of the state damaged fruit set, reducing the crop size.  With the exception of a few heat spikes in the summer, the growing season was cool and dry right through harvest, leading to balanced fruit.

Merlot was particularly hard hit by the frost, with tonnage down by about 15% in the Lodi area and 20% in Napa. Zinfandel tonnage was also down in Lodi, where many of the state's best old-vine vineyards are found. The Chardonnay harvest was also well below last year's crop over much of the state.

However, the dry spring and summer enabled growers in the interior Central Valley to effectively use irrigation, controlling the amount of water to the vine, leading to smaller berries with more concentrated flavours, according to Mark Gabrielli, vice president of grape and wine management for Canandaigua Wine Company, (Constellation Brands.)  Most of the state's 'everyday value' wines come from the Central Valley.

The total statewide winegrape crop is expected to be 3.1m tons, according to a California Department of Food and Agriculture estimate. Although over 40,000 new acres have come into production this year, the total tonnage is down 6% from last year's record-high harvest of 3.3m tons.



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