Harvest Reports 2004

Specials Specials


Hungary | Portugal | Port | California | Spain | Bordeaux | Burgundy | Rhone | Champagne | Languedoc-Roussillon | Loire Valley | Provence | Italy | Australia | Chile | New Zealand | South Africa | Argentina

Read the 2003 harvest reports here

Hungary

By Natasha Hughes

17 November 2004

Verdict

‘It hasn’t been an ideal year because of the late harvest,’ says Clive Hartnell of Balatonboglar’s Chapel Hill winery. ‘Having said that, the Chardonnay has done pretty well, especially for sparkling wine. The wines have a nice, crisp acidity without any harshness. Chardonnay intended for still wines has also done well, especially the grapes from vineyards in favoured spots. The Sauvignon Blanc yields were fairly low, but the quality is up on the previous year,’ he continues. ‘The grapes clearly benefited from a cooler growing season. The Irsai Oliver is perhaps not as aromatic as usual, but I’m hopeful it will develop well.’

Hilltop Neszmely’s Eva Keresztury is more optimistic, believing that 2004 will prove to be a good year for whites across the board. ‘The aromatic whites promise superb quality,’ she says, ‘with Sauvignon Blanc excelling above all others, but Irsai, Muscat and Traminer all show great promise. Chardonnays will be more appley and less broad and buttery in style than usual.’

The reds, however, are somewhat disappointing. ‘They are generally thin, with less colour and body than usual,’ says Keresztury. ‘This year, yields are a decisive factor – a lower crop will result in medium-to-good quality, while high yields led to rot and an ensuing lack of colour and fruit. Having said that, the reds from Villany and Szeksard should turn out well.’

The harvest in Tokaji was divided. Generally speaking the more southerly estates harvested ripe grapes in good condition. In the north – especially estates that failed to limit yields – grapes failed to achieve enough ripeness before the onset of botrytis.

Weather

Winter 2003-2004 was far milder than it was the previous year, which meant there was no frost damage in the vineyards. A cooler than average spring retarded budbreak and as a result some vineyards were affected by mites. Some regions were also affected by heavy rains, causing downy mildew. Due to the rain and low temperatures, flowering was delayed. June saw the arrival of warmer weather which carried through for the rest of summer. In many areas, relative humidity was around 70%, and because of the slow veraison, powdery mildew attacked the vines.

A cold, rainy autumn did not help matters. There was little botrytis damage as temperatures were not sufficiently high to allow it to develop. Harvest started with the ‘early’ varieties in the first week of September, but the main harvest began a couple of weeks later, ten days to three weeks later than usual. In Tokaji, picking commenced the week beginning 8 November.

Production

Yields have been uneven in 2004, with some areas reporting a larger than average crop. The Balatonboglar region in particular is showing a slight drop on the average.

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Portugal

By Richard Mayson

2 November 2004

Verdict

After the extremes of the last two years, 2004 proved to be a much more amenable vintage though not a year without risks. In Dao and the Douro, Touriga Nacional has performed especially well producing characteristically fine, fragrant reds without any of the jaminess that could be found in 2003. Syrah, a variety gaining ground throughout central-southern Portugal, also performed very well. Overall, 2004 has produced some wonderfully well-balanced reds with alcohol, intensity and acidity which should hold them in good stead for many years ahead.

Weather

The spring months presented few problems for flowering and fruit set. However in the second half of July the thermometer rose sharply registering temperatures in excess of 40C in much of southern Portugal. This triggered memories of 2003 which proved to be too hot to produce quality grapes in the south of the country. Thankfully the heat, though extreme, was short-lived. August was unusually cool and overcast with outbreaks of heavy rain throughout the country. In the north of Portugal, it proved to be the wettest August for over a century. As a result maturation was generally slow but even. When the rain continued into early September many growers became nervous. There were sporadic outbreaks of rot. Baga in Bairrada, Alfrocheiro in Dao and Tinta Amarela / Trincadeira in the Douro, Ribatejo and Alentejo were the red varieties most susceptible whereas the later-ripening Touriga Nacional held up well. Unusually, the rain presented the greatest difficulties in the south of the country where white grapes are picked as early as mid-August. This year the slow ripening process meant that the harvest began around ten days later than normal. According to Rui Reguinga who makes wines at a number of properties in central southern Portugal, 2004 is a much better year for the reds than the whites. Fernao Pires, Trincadeira das Pratas and Arinto were all widely planted white varieties that suffered from a degree of rot.

Just as the harvest was getting under way, the weather took a significant turn for the better. Grapes which were under-ripe accumulated sugars and baumes rose sharply. The late burst of summer heat was a godsend for the coastal regions, particularly Alenquer in Estremadura where sugar readings had been very low indeed.

Production

Sorting tables, now in widespread use among quality conscious producers, were vital this year to separate healthy grapes from those tainted with rot. Where used rigorously, some fantastic wines have been made from well-balanced musts although this has reduced production is down by as much as 50% in some parts of the country.

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Port

By Richard Mayson

29 October 2004

Verdict

The 2004 harvest in the Douro kept everyone on a knife-edge and ultimately surpassed all expectations. Although sugar readings were high (in excess of 13 Baume in most places and occasionally as high as 19) acidity was good and pH/Baume ratios were excellent. Charles Symington, commenting on wines that were still just a few days old, said they show good colour, power and structure. Jim Reader, head winemaker for Cockburn reports that ‘initial tastings are promising and although the analytical results have not thrown up so many of the really forceful tannic wines of last year, tasting some of the wines indicates that the fruit/tannin/colour balance will be excellent.’ Much depends on how the wines evolve over the next few months but with two fine years in a row, the shippers are now presented with a dilemma as to which will be worthy of a fully-fledged vintage declaration.

Weather

The growing season was extraordinary with wet weather at the end of 2003 and an incredibly dry start to 2004. At Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim just 147mm of rain fell during the first four months of the year - less than half the ten-year average. Flowering went well in all three Douro sub-regions but fruit set was slightly less successful due to very rapid shoot growth encouraged by the warm, sunny conditions in May. July was hot with temperatures reaching 40C towards the end of the month. Vineyards remained in excellent condition but as August approached growers became concerned as to how the vines would cope with the low water reserves in the soil. Then rain fell on three consecutive days in early August followed by yet more rainfall in the middle of the month. In total 77mm fell at Quinta do Bomfim making this the wettest August in the north of Portugal for 104 years! The weather remained abnormally cool and overcast into September, slowing down the ripening process. When wet, unsettled weather returned in the first week of September growers faced a major dilemma: start picking under-ripe grapes early before rot sets in or hold on in the hope of better weather.

Most growers held their nerve and, luckily, the sunshine returned. Sugar levels rose suddenly, taking many by surprise, and continued to rise as temperatures exceeded 30C. Picking began around the middle of the month and continued through uninterrupted sunshine. Not a drop of rain fell until 8 October by which time the harvest was all but complete. In 40 harvests, Peter Symington (winemaker for Dow, Graham and Warre) commented that he had never seen a vintage that could have swung so easily between near disaster or success.

Production

Yields are down slightly on 2004.

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California

By Norm Roby

27 October 2004

Verdict

Did someone say ‘global warming’? Average quality with mixed early reviews across the board. Chardonnay showed better quality from Carneros and the Central Coast. The compact, fast-paced vintage forced winemakers to roll-over their fermentors by the early barreling of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In warmer North Coast sites, Cabernet was harvested a month earlier than normal. Hillside and mountain appellations produced the best Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but the problem was high sugar levels in advance of flavour development. The best reds will come from those who were able to hold off harvesting until the fruit matured. Zinfandel came through well, but high alcohol Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon will be common.

Weather

This one was an early harvest with picking going at a frantic pace throughout September. It was also compressed as 90% of wineries in the North Coast were finished by the end of September. The growing season started quickly, with bloom coming almost a month earlier than in previous years. A record three-week hot spell in early March set the tone and pushed the vines. The spring weather continued to be warm, giving way to a cooler May and June. Pinot Noir went through veraison in mid-July and by mid-August, it was ready to be picked. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc all went through veraison roughly about the same time – when the heat arrived in the last week of August and continued over the next two weeks. In the Central Coast, the heat arrived a week later, and picking there became frantic. Four days of 100F (37oC) weather accelerated the ripening of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Throughout September, the hoped-for foggy mornings did not materialise, leaving wineries to deal with warm days and unusually high humidity by early afternoon.

Production

Yields were in general average to light. Many varieties experienced a light set due to the early flowering during the warm and windy weather. Unusually high humidity in August created some problems with Pinot Noir, and heat waves in early September caused some dehydration for Chardonnay. Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley was harvested early, but with low yields and good flavours. Cabernet Sauvignon was reported to be low almost everywhere, but many new plantings came online to offset the lighter yields. Zinfandel was down by as much as 50% with Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa and Sonoma said to be off by 15-25%.

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Spain

By John Radford

31 October 2004

Verdict

The general feeling is very upbeat throughout the country, with Rías Baixas in the north-west and La Mancha in the south-centre both reporting their best quality (‘excellent’) and biggest vintage ever. Most regions are reporting a ‘very good’ harvest with healthy fruit, good sugar levels and full ripeness. The first region to start harvesting was Málaga which began bringing in the white varietes on the 11th August. Most regions started harvesting in late September/early October and all was safely gathered in by the end of October throughout the country. Highland areas of the north such as Somontano and areas south of Madrid seem to have done best, the former having escaped spring frosts and the latter not having suffered the great heat as it did in 2003.

Weather

North: Álava suffered from some frost in the spring, although yields were not affected as young vineyards come into production. Rías Baixas, Rioja and Navarra suffered a cloudy August and more than average rainfall in early September, but there was a reduction in cryptogamic diseases in all three regions. The harvest in Rioja was halted temporarily due to rain on the 17th October, but continued uninterrupted thereafter. Catalunya (and particularly Penedès with its myriad microclimates) had a difficult cool and cloudy spell between the 29th August and 15th September but the weather cleared thereafter.

South: Excellent weather throughout the ripening season, except in parts of Andalucía where there was some drought, but even here grapes were harvested in good health, except for Málaga which had an attack of Plasmopora. Jerez reports ‘perfect’ weather in August and September, with rainfall 25% higher then usual, and mildew kept down in the vineyards by the Levanter.

Production

This was up almost everywhere except for Málaga, where up to 30% of the vines were affected by the Plasmopora outbreak. Penedès showed the smallest increase for reasons of weather, and the average crop seems to be up by about 20-25%, with Rías Baixas up 38% and tiny Arabako Txakolina up 50% (from a very low base). On the whole, this has been achieved without excessive yields per hectare as in some previous years, and bodes well for the quality of the vintage.

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Bordeaux

By James Lawther

28 October 2004

Verdict

Producers are talking optimistically about the 2004 vintage but it’s likely to be a two-way track. Those that put the man hours into the vineyard to cultivate and curb the prodigious harvest may well have exceeded early expectations, elsewhere there’s a risk of dilution and unripe fruit. At this very early stage (the last Cabernets were brought in around 25 October) the following observations can be made. The dry whites (Sauvignon and Semillon) have plenty of fruit and character and good acidity and look to be in the classic mould of 2002 or 1998. The better reds have deep colour, good natural alcohol degrees and a high total acidity and tannin count. The earlier ripening Merlot may well be the winner with appellations like Pomerol clearly outperforming 2003. In Sauternes a small quantity of quality botrytised wine will be produced but this will not be considered a great year.

Weather

The weather returned to a more typical pattern after the excesses of 2003. The harvest was nearly a month later but more in keeping with the norm. A dry, sunny June assisted with a swift and uniform flowering. Temperatures for July, August and September were above the 30-year average while sunshine hours were below (but on a par or better than 2001 and 2002). Rainfall was consistent for the region and without surfeit except for the 71mm that fell in August putting initial doubts over the potential of the year. A relatively warm, dry sunny spell through September and early October compensated. The Merlot was mainly harvested in ideal conditions 1-8 October. Intermittent rain from 11 October hampered the Cabernet harvest and resulted in a degradation of quality in Sauternes (the quality botrytised grapes were picked 15 September-8 October).

Production

This is undoubtedly a plethoric vintage. The official figures will not be available until December but it seems likely that the original estimate of 7m hectolitres will be exceeded. Even the most ardent 'green harvesters' found their original projections surpassed by 10-20%. Juice to skin ratio was high making the 'bleeding' of tanks an obligatory technique during vinification (juice concentrators were also used to deal with dilution from the rain). With untended crop levels so high it’s noticeable the number of plots where grapes have just been left on the vine as producers ran out of tank space or reached their limited yield. Reacting to the crisis of overproduction in Bordeaux the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux) has recommended a ceiling of 50 hectolitres/hectare in 2004.

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Burgundy

By Natasha Hughes

27 October 2004

Verdict

Up in Chablis the harvest was successful. ‘The final result is remarkable,’ says Michel Laroche, ‘I think there’s a promise of good quality to come from these wines.’

Further south, however, the picture is more mixed. ‘The determination of quality levels, particularly in the Côte de Beaune, will come from the trie,’ says Frédéric Drouhin. ‘We were initially disappointed, but the reds seem to be improving with time. The best of them will be fairly structured but slow to mature. Lesser communes will produce wines that are drinkable young,’ he says, ‘and quality is more consistent in the Côte de Nuits than in the Côte de Beaune.’

As for the whites, Drouhin believes it will be, ‘…a charming vintage, with lots of aromatic elements and a good balance between the fruit and the acidity’.

‘The grapes contain fairly high levels of malic acid,’ says Jean-Claude Mitanchey at Château de Meursault, ‘so they are a bit closed at the moment but the malolactic fermentation will deal with that’. The Chardonnay is similar to 96, but without the aggressive acidity. ‘It will be a good white vintage, but not a great one. Reds, too, will be good, but will need some cellaring before they’re ready to drink.’

Weather

The weather this year has provided Burgundy’s vignerons with some nail-biting moments. Things started well, with a winter and early spring remarkable only by their relative lack of frosts; but while warm weather in May brought on abundant flowering for the Chardonnay, a cold snap followed, and the Pinot flowering was late and drawn out.

Summer arrived, and, with it came the rains. July and August were uncommonly damp, cloudy and cold, bringing the threat of mould and oidium. As a result, those vignerons who did not cut back the leaf canopy and green harvest rigorously ended up with some very unhealthy grapes. To make matters worse, hailstorms struck the Côte de Beaune hard in August, culminating in a hard fall on 23 August, which wiped out swathes of Volnay, Pommard, Beaune and Savigny. While some vineyards were barely touched, others suffered up to 90 per cent damage.

A total washout was prevented when the sun finally came out at the end of August, and a brisk north wind helped dry out the vineyards. Hot afternoons and cool nights helped develop good ripeness, colour and acidity in the grapes. Harvest began pretty much on schedule, towards the latter half of September.

Production

Thanks to the impact of the rain and hail of summer, yields are not high this year, but nor are they disproportionately low, as they were in 2003 – due to the drought. Quantity-wise, this seems to be an average year in most of Burgundy’s communes.

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Rhone

Verdict

First impressions are that tannins are high and that levels of maturity are better than in 2003. Expect mouthfilling, structured wines. French newspaper Aujourd’hui reports that northern Rhônes should resemble those of 2001 and southern Rhônes those of 1999 – both very good years.

Weather

No details at present

Production

The problem of surplus stock (just under 1.5m hectolitres) should be resolved by limiting production this year. Low-end wines should suffer in mesures to prevent a wine glut in the region. However, low harvests in the northern Rhône over the past two years mean this particular area should have little difficulty fighting over production. The figure set for this year’s harvest is 3.5m hectolitres.

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Champagne

Verdict

A little too early to tell yet but some growers are speaking of a year to equal the best. Quantity should not be a problem and if the weather holds, this could be a very good year for champagne indeed. Sugar levels are currently low and a bit of late September sunshine would certainly help the maturity of the grapes. All in all, producers are happy to be resuming normal service after last year’s tough conditions.

Weather

Last year’s extreme conditions were contrasted this year by a relatively soft and late summer. Indeed, some grapes in some areas are not nearly mature enough to be picked. If the late September weather remains warm and sunny, all will be well. Bad weather could upset the plans a little but on whole, growers are optimistic. One added concern is the large number of grapes on the vine. This could lower acidity levels, but with the soft late summer weather, this should not be a problem.

Production

Picking in the Marne began on 20 September. The harvest is predicted to last three weeks although some areas may not begin picking until the beginning of October. The official date is 25 September. In terms of quantity, the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) has fixed the yield at 12,000kg/ha, with a qualitative reserve of 1,000 kg. ‘The largest harvest in the history of Champagne,’ Patrick Lebrun of the growers union SGV told Agence France Presse. This is a welcome change from 2003 when the size of the harvest was halved by April hailstorms and the August heat wave.

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Languedoc-Roussillon

By Natasha Hughes

4 November 2004

Verdict

‘Growers who’ve been conscientious have great fruit,’ says Languedoc négociant Nerida Abbott. ‘Those who haven’t have vineyards full of rot.’

‘This is going to be a real winemaker’s year,’ agrees Domaine Piquemal’s Marie-Pierre Piquemal. ‘A successful outcome depends on the quality of the work in the vineyard and in the winery.’

In general, whites have been less successful than reds, especially in the Languedoc. ‘Although the Chardonnay in Limoux is OK, the region’s white appellation varieties didn’t ripen enough for their aromatic profile to develop fully,’ says Abbott.

Down in the Roussillon, Vignerons Catalan’s Christophe Palmowski reports that whites have a ‘zesty acidity, with nicely developed aromas. Reds are fruity, with supple tannins and a pleasantly bracing acidity.’

‘They’re juicy and pleasant to drink, and will be wines for the short term rather than the long haul,’ he adds.

Further north, in the Languedoc, the best of the reds are showing great promise. ‘The Carignan and Grenache has been of excellent quality,’ says Mont Tauch’s Katie Jones, ‘and Marselan, the new cross between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, has produced great results.’

‘This is a much better year for reds than 2003 was,’ says Abbott. ‘They’ve got balance, colour, fruit and tannins. Late-ripening varieties like Grenache, Carignan and top-quality Syrah have done particularly well.’

Weather

After the drought of 2003, abundant rainfall over the course of winter 2004 was a godsend for the vignerons, as it helped to top up the water reserves. Cold weather in February and March marginally delayed budding, and flowering was rather late in Roussillon thanks to a cool May. Nevertheless, over the course of the summer, ripening progressed evenly if slowly.

July and August were also cooler than average and heavy rains fell in the region towards the end of August and beginning of September. As a result, many of those who failed to tend their vineyards properly saw the development of a fair amount of rot, although many were rescued from the worst effects by the arrival of the tramontane. Vignerons who maintained low yields in their vineyards were not affected by the problem.

A reprieve came in September, with a glorious Indian summer that helped accelerate the ripening of the grapes, and, for most vignerons, harvest began only a week or two later than average. Overall, 2004 was a cool year, a direct contrast to the high temperatures of the previous year.

Production

Overall, yields are fairly low in 2004, similar to those achieved in 2003, especially in the rigorously maintained AOC vineyards on the slopes. The exception is the Languedoc plains, where yields are slightly above average.

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Loire Valley

Verdict

A very wet summer has had quite an influence on this year’s harvest in the Loire but in the last week of August the sun arrived, and stayed, halting any fears of the rain ruining the vintage. Now the growers in Anjou and the Nantes region are citing a good year and possibly one to match the 1996 and 1999 vintages. The Muscadet harvest has already begun and the general Loire harvesting should start on or around 20 September.

Weather

The wet summer – the worst in 30 years – was a major worry although, as mentioned, the sun appeared in September and many fears were dispelled. With any luck, the late appearance of the sun will have lowered acidity and increased sugar levels. Maturation is said to be similar to what it was in 2002 – a good year.

Production

Although the rain in August led many to believe this year’s harvest would be significantly reduced, the quantities produced should be up on last year and reports are suggesting that production should be up on last year by 15%.

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Provence

Verdict

Acidity levels are lower than usual this year due to the abnormal number of Mistrals (NW winds which blow away humidity). This has lowered the acidity although residual sugar levels are quite high. Alcohol levels were lower by half a percent at picking. This may be regained, however, during fermentation and maturity.

The bunches are misshapen all over the region with many small bullets.

A particularly early start has been made this year by the co-operatives although the better-known vineyards are holding back for another week or two. The whole of the littoral are harvesting with many almost finished.

The wines will be lighter this year – good for sales according to winemakers.

Weather

The worst spring on record for thirty years, Jean-Marc Berenguer reports. He has made a daily record since he was twenty-one. Jean-Marc is a resident of La Croix Valmer on the Saint Tropez peninsula and a drinks professional.

The Summer has been cool and windy, with some nights very cold indeed. Roseline Schelcher of Château de Chausse says the summer has been good for holidaymakers but too cool for wine making. The region had little rain, even in 2003 the exceptionally hot summer produced better wine because water levels were up during the winter or 2002/3. A lot of vineyards have been very badly hit by hail, great swathes of vines were hit in many parts of this large region.

Production

The normal annual production is 156 million bottles which will be down on the 2004 vintage but it is too early to give precise figures on the drop in production. The 27.300 hectares of vineyards in Provence make it the fourth most productive region of France.

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Italy - North

By Michèle Shah

15 October 2004

Verdict

‘It’s an excellent vintage on all levels,’ says Franciacorta winemaker Mattia Vezzola of Bellavista estate. ‘The wines promise to be ripe, fresh, structured and elegant – 2004 will go down as one of our historic vintages!’ The same optimism is echoed by other sparkling wine producers. Bisol, Prosecco producer in Treviso, rates 2004 a five star vintage with fresh aromatic quality.

‘In Lombardy the structure and levels of acidity of Pinot Nero are the best we have had in years,’ adds Franco Giacosa of Zonin.

According to Gianni Menotti of Villa Russiz in Friuli, 2004’s favourable climatic conditions promise balanced whites with good acidity levels and good aromatic profile.

‘What really characterises this vintage is the intense colour of the must and high phenolic content and anthocyanins level, producing age-worthy wines,’ says Daniele Accordini, winemaker of Valpolicella’s Cooperative Domini Veneti, adding, ‘If I were to invest in ‘en primeur’ wines this year I’d definitely go for Amarone’.

In Piedmont Dolcetto, Barbera and Freisa have been harvested. They are showing good balance, ripe fruit and not over-alcoholic wines - certainly less powerful than 2003. Most producers are still harvesting the Nebbiolo grapes for Barbaresco and Barolo. ‘We have just finished harvesting Barbaresco grapes which are rich in phenolic content with an average 13º – 13.5º alcohol, while Barolo is underway and is looking outstanding,’ says Alberto Chiarlo. Roberto Bava adds Moscato, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to the list of outstanding 2004 wines.

Weather

Northern Italy’s 2004 growing cycle was late in starting due to abundant rains in the first months of the year. Winter temperatures remained low for longer than normal, delaying budding and flowering. Summer temperatures were in the norm with sunny days and cool nights throughout September and October, ripening the grapes slowly. ‘Ideal conditions with a very good temperature variation between day and night,’ says Chiarlo. Most producers started harvesting 10-20 days later than in 2003.

Production

Production levels were up in northern Italy by 20%-35% compared to 2003. Most regions have been awarded good to very good by Italy’s Assoenologi association.

Early in July hail marginally hit some of Veneto’s production, thus ‘naturally’ lowering yields. According to GIV’s (Gruppo Italiano Vini) president Emilio Pedron, the 2004 vintage, due to its generous growth, needed to be carefully curtailed. ‘Quality production in 2004 will be determined by rigorous vineyard management and prices should, if anything, go down,’ he said.

Centre

Verdict

‘If this is not a five star vintage, than I don’t know what more is needed to make it,’ says top producer Lamberto Frescobaldi in Tuscany, ‘2004 is a vintage characterized by deep, dark must with bright tonality, outstanding aromas, depth and length.’ Renzo Cotarella of Antinori is a little more cautious in his judgement as the harvest is still underway. ‘Bolgheri is being picked and looks very promising. Montalcino has given us excellent results,’ he said. Paolo De Marchi of Isole e Olena talks of thick-skinned grapes with incredible depth of colour, fresh bouquet, good balance between sugar and acidity and ripe tannins.

Reports from Umbria are of a four-star vintage from top producers Caprai and Lungarotti, with exceptional quality in whites. Sangiovese has mostly been harvested reaching slow ripeness. ‘This year’s Merlot is a stunner – incredible structure and fine aromas, which will characterize of all 2004 wines – structured, elegant and fine on the palate, ‘ said Caprai, who also gave a very promising verdict for the Sagrantino to be harvested between October and November.

Four star vintages also in Emilia-Romagna with positive verdicts for Lambrusco and in the Marches where the harvest of Sangiovese and Montepulciano is well underway with good levels of acidity and ripe fruit and tannins.

Weather

Lungarotti in Umbria is very satisfied with the vintage despite it being a difficult harvest due to climatic conditions. A long, cold winter and a rainy spring delayed the budding and flowering. The prolonged summer and unusually hot October brought the grapes to optimum ripeness. Overall, the harvest was delayed by 15-20 days.

Production

Like most Italian regions the vintage was abundant, yielding between 10% (Lazio) and 25% (Tuscany) more in quantity. According to Marco Pallanti, winemaker of Castello di Ama, the abundant growth of the vines needed rigorous curtailing in order to bring the Sangiovese to ripeness. Winemaker Stefano Chioccioli advised that traces of peronosopera, downy mildew, were quickly resolved, thanks to the sunny weather.

South

Verdict

In Sardinia, Giacomo Tachis, consultant winemaker to Argiolas and the large cooperative Santadi, reports a good white vintage, especially for Vermentino which is showing excellent aroma and acidity levels. ‘I’m less impressed with the reds – they are deep in colour but short on the palate,’ said Tachis.

The harvest in Campania is only just underway. Piero Mastroberardino in Irpinia, is cautious regarding an early verdict on the quality of Greco, Fiano, Aglianico and Falanghina, but expects them to show good varietal character.

According to Salvo Foti, winemaker to Gulfi (Ragusa) and Benanti (Etna) estates, the cooler climate in Sicily and slow ripening has yielded harmonious, balanced wines, fruitier with more ‘drinkable’ appeal. ‘Ragusan whites are showing well and the Etna, to be harvested beginning of November, promises excellent harmony and elegance,’ says Foti.

‘The rains in the second half of the harvest slowed down the ripening making it particularly difficult for Shiraz and some Nero d’Avola to ripen, while in other areas where there was less rain the Nero d’Avola has reached perfect ripening,’ commented Alessio Planeta. ‘On the whole wines are showing more varietal character.’

Weather

‘The weather in Sardinia has been more continental and temperate than truly Mediterranean,’ said Tachis. According to Foti, the summer was very uncharacteristic of a hot and muggy Sicilian summer – more in line with the climate of bygone days when a longer and slower ripening phase was the norm. There was a visible 10-20 day delay on 2003’s harvest. With unstable climatic conditions in Campania, Mastroberardino is concerned for the local late-ripening varieties.

Production

Alcohol levels are lower by one or two degrees compared to the 2003 vintage. Production levels were up by between 5% and 20% in Sicily and 20% in Campania, Puglia and Sicily. According to producers, as is the case in other regions, estates with good vineyard management will be rewarded with a four to five star vintage.

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Australia

Verdict

The 2004 harvest was a significantly bigger one than last year’s, although many are now talking of an Australian red wine glut lasting into 2006. Red wine is being over-produced and although quality should remain unchanged – if not improve on last year – prices are expected to drop. White varieties, however, could represent a good investment for those growers who increased white varietal plantings. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) says that most of the growth in wine grape production over the next three years would be for white varieties. In general, the 2004 vintage should be good value for money, with red wines struggling with oversupply and unfavourable economic conditions in the international market.

Weather

After last year’s drought, the weather was generally good across the board in 2004 with growers reporting good rain and low levels of disease.

‘We’ve had good winter rains, good spring rains and they’re probably looking as good right through all our regions as they have for the last two or three years, so good, healthy vines – all that goes well for good quality fruit,’ said Western Australian Wine Industry Association president, John Griffiths. In the Hunter Valley, however, the rain played havoc with the harvest as Sydney saw 80mm of rain in 30 hours. Crime went down, domestic violence went up and the grape harvest stalled. Conversely, Clare Valley, Longhorne Creek and Riverland may have seen too much sun and the wines may be over-ripe. The areas to look out for include Yarra Valley, Margaret River and Coonawarra.

‘What we have in the barrel looks terrific,’ Peter Gago, Penfolds chief winemaker told daily newspaper The Australian.

Production

Although production levels of red wine in 2004 may not be quite as high as predicted, Australia will still have to contend with glut and oversupply. Although the quantity harvested fell below the Australian Wine and Brandy Council’s original prediction of 1.85m tonnes, the actual volume of production is given at 1.755m tonnes and this will do little to calm fears of leaving next year’s crop on the vine to rot. Shiraz grapes, which were worth around AUS$1,000 per tonne are now reportedly selling in some parts for as little as AUS$350. Although the 2004 harvest looks to be a good one in terms of quality and quantity, the shadow of a red wine glut looms darkly over it.

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Chile

Verdict

Initial reports indicate that this is a small harvest for the South American nation. One industry insider is reported to have said that domestic wine prices will increase by 10% as a consequence of this and global wine market changes in the past year. The harvest was also an earlier harvest than usual but winemakers are saying that quality should be good this year.

‘We have high expectations for this year because the grapes have reached maturity very quickly. But despite that there is a combination of fruitiness and high concentration in the grape that is very rare to find,’ Ricardo Rodriguez of Santa Rita winery told Reuters.

Weather

Generally speaking, the weather has been well behaved although this year’s summer in Chile was very hot and dry. The grapes ripened quickly and with smaller, thick-skinned fruit, concentrated flavour and fruitiness in the wines should be higher than usual, even if volume is down.

Production

Harvesting began two to three weeks early this year with some regions starting the picking as early as February. Initial reports on the harvest place the 2004 production at between 550m and 580m litres – down on last year’s production total of around 600m litres in 2003. Industry figures such as Herman Amenabar, head of the Oenologists’ Association of Chile, are talking of a 15% to 30% drop in expected production but calling this a ‘very good sign of quality’.

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New Zealand

Verdict

The NZ Wine Growers’ Association is expecting a bumper 2004 crop compared to the unusually small harvest last year. According to Philip Gregan, New Zealand Wine Growers’ Association CEO, volume is expected to be three times higher than any previous New Zealand harvest. In Canterbury, a long hot summer could produce one of the best yields in years although it should result in higher sugar levels and, consequentially, higher alcohol in the wine. Marlborough, Hawke's Bay and Gisborne are reportedly the regions to watch. Marlborough Winegrowers spokesman Stuart Smith said in terms of quality, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay were looking good.

Weather

Despite a late November frost in Central Otago wiping out an estimated 20% of the vines, the New Zealand summer began warm and dry, reducing the likelihood of disease. February proved to be colder, wetter and windier than expected, delaying some harvests but not causing any headaches. Wither Hills viticulturist John Marris said the rain would do little harm to the vines because the berries were still firm and green and good flowering had increased yields. Due to spring frosts, the Central Otago crop could be lower than expected, while Wairarapa growers had to contend with wind and heavy rain. The sudden change in weather also increased the danger of bunch rot and Botrytis, especially for those harvesting a little later. Nonetheless, any inclement weather is unlikely to dent crop levels. Conditions improved dramatically at the end of February and the harvest was well on track.

Production

In a bid for quality many growers reduced their crops but March saw good flowering and further high yields. However the fruit on large crops would take much longer to ripen than average, increasing the risk of damage and disease. Production figures are likely to be between 150,000 and 170,000 tonnes. The previous record of 118,000 tonnes was set in 2002 but since then the vine growing area in New Zealand has also increased by 30%. Marlborough alone expects to take 80,000 tonnes and two wineries took 80 tonnes during the first day of harvesting. Montana Brancott Winery manager Gerry Gregg said that at its peak the winery would be processing more than 1,000 tonnes a day.

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South Africa

Verdict

So far the late 2004 harvest looks to have potential. Many growers are claiming to have produced better wines than last year but with picking times differing from producer to producer, and weather conditions changing from region to region, the outcome is unlikely to be consistent. ‘It was tough for the producers, there were weeks when they could pick only three out of five days,’ said the Durbanville Hills Newsletter. The changeable climactic conditions and uneven ripening mean that the wines will be more European in style with lower alcohol and higher acidity due to the cooler weather earlier in the season.

‘We should have full-bodied wines with good ageing potential,’ said Charles Back of Fairview.

Weather

A generally cooler and drier winter than normal – Paarl experienced less than half the normal rainfall – however this did not affect the ripening process to a great degree.

‘Although the cold spells during early winter were not ideal, the critical flowering and berry set stages went off beautifully owing to good rains in late winter and early spring,’ said Nicolette de Kock of Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch did not experience any untoward vine affliction although some regions did have to cope with vine stress due to high temperatures and drought, especially at the later stages of the harvest. In the south-east, regular rain caused some rot.

Production

Due to the February heatwave and drought in the western Cape, this year’s crop production has dropped a little. The South African Wine Industry Information & Systems (SAWIS) estimates at 1.23 tons – 0.8% less than that of the previous year. SAWIS also predcts an increase in red wine production although this is not true across the board.

‘We have a much smaller crop of red varietals,’ said Back.

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Argentina

Verdict

An interesting vintage for the South American country as very dry and hot conditions through the season were contrasted by a last minute rainfall and a drop in temperature. Due to the changeable climactic conditions, the red wines should have good ageing potential although the whites will probably not be as good as initial conditions would have lead winemakers to believe. Quality will depend on the experience and the technology the winery had to deal with the weather.

Weather

A dry, harsh winter followed by a hot spring and summer lead many to believe that the 2004 Argentine harvest was going to ripen early and be picked early. On the whole, bunch formation went well although the Zonda (warm wind) did cause a few headaches in early spring. Summer temperatures occasionally passed the 40C mark. Since very early on in the season, comparisons were being made to the very hot 2002/2003 season in Argentina and wineries that have been proactive should have had no problems dealing with the heat. Then the rains came at the end of January followed by a drop in temperature in February continuing into March. This pushed the harvest back a little, especially for the red grape varieties.

Production

Harvesting began just over a week later than normal and despite pre-picking worries that the weather might have reduced the crop, the quantative results were impressive. The overall yeild was declared at just under 14.6m hectolitres, an increase of over 10% on 2003.

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