Rheingau growers look to great 2003
- Monday 8 September 2003
Like other wine regions of Europe, the Rheingau endured unprecedented weather conditions, with long dry spells of great heat.
Amid general optimism some growers say the powerful complex dry Rieslings for which they have been aiming in recent years may be lacking. Riesling, by far the dominant variety here, needs good acidic structure, but as grape sugar levels rise, acidity drops.
August Kesseler, a leading grower, estimates that his Riesling will have 30% more sugar than usual, but 20% less acidity. 'The wines will lack the extract needed for great dry Riesling, but we should be able to make good sweeter wines, and perhaps some nobly sweet wines too.' Yields will be down too, at only 60% of 2002 levels.
Despite the low yields, shortage of water in the soil has made green-harvesting necessary. Young vines have been struggling, because their root systems aren't fully developed and thus have difficulty finding water.
Kesseler plans to pick his renowned Pinot on 12 September, followed by Riesling no later than 15 September. Another top grower, Bernhard Breuer, won't pick his Riesling until early October. Cool nights, as well as some light rain in late August, have helped to slow the slide in acidity. The grapes remain healthy, and both Kesseler and Breuer feel very optimistic about the quality of their Pinot Noir. Riesling remains more problematic.
For all growers, the date of picking will be crucial and will vary according to the age and maturation levels of the vines, and the microclimates of individual sites, which can be very different in this northerly climate.
Kesseler and Breuer both compare the year to 1947. Some have compared it to 1976, but that was a great botrytis year, and in 2003 the skins are too thick for botrytis to be probable.
Breuer advises caution at this stage. 'We're making these predictions at a time when 80% of the vegetative cycle is complete. But, as we all know, the final 20% can be crucial,' he said.