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Climate change blamed for failed German ice wine vintage

Rising temperatures meant grapes failed to freeze on the vine during the mild 2019/20 winter, preventing production of the famous sweet wine.

There will be no German ice wine produced in the 2019 vintage as temperatures across Germany’s wine-producing regions have been too warm this winter.

None of the country’s 13 wine-growing regions reached the figure of -7C necessary for the production of the famous dessert wine, which is made from grapes that have frozen while still on the vine.

‘Due to the mild winter, the minimum required temperature for an ice wine harvest was not reached in any German wine region. And the coming days are also no longer expected to have frosty nights,’ said Ernst Büscher from the German Wine Institute (DWI).

It is the first vintage in history that ice wine has not been produced in Germany, and the failed 2019 harvest follows a number of poor years for the sweet wine. According to the DWI only seven producers could harvest ice wine nationwide in 2017, while the 2014/15 winter was so mild that ice wine from the 2014 vintage is also ‘an absolute rarity’.

The future doesn’t look too bright either. ‘If the warm winters continue in the next few years, ice wines from German wine regions will soon become even more of a rarity than they already are,’ said Büscher.

Further challenges

The DWI says that another problem for ice wine production is that in recent years the dates for a possible ice harvest – the times of year when the temperature falls below 7C – have shifted more and more into January and February, while the grapes have tended to ripen earlier and earlier. ‘As a result, the period that the grapes have to survive in a healthy state until a possible ice wine harvest is becoming longer,’ claims the Institute.

A further challenge is created when the yields across the regular grape harvest are low, which lessens the willingness of growers to leave grapes hanging for ice wine production. ‘The harvest amount for ice wine is usually only around 500 liters per hectare on average,’ says the DWI.

Adapting to climate change

Wine producers are increasingly having to consider how to adapt to face the challenges of rising temperatures, a point that was addressed by Dirceu Vianna Junior MW in his Portuguese wines Discovery Theatre at the Decanter Spain and Portugal Encounter on 29th February.

‘We used to laugh at people planting in Central Otago – too cold we thought – and same for England,’ he said. He also noted the decision made last summer to permit different grapes, including Touriga Nacional, in Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wines.

A recent study found that more than half the world’s vineyards could be unviable if the planet warms by two degrees Celsius.

Additional reporting by Ellie Douglas. 

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