Champagne12 October 2005
The quality of the champagne harvest looks generally good with picking mostly completed in the last week of September.
‘Chardonnay is definitely riper than the others,’ according to Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Chef de Cave at Louis Roederer. ‘Pinot Noir also did very well, because of the beautiful weather during the vintage it kept ripening. [Pinot] Meunier is more variable and had some difficulty ripening in certain terroirs. Overall quality is good plus, with very sound grapes. We should be able to vintage 2005, but it’s still too early to say more.’
Philippe le Brun who runs a press house in the grand cru of Ay reports: ‘average potential alcohol level in my press house was 9.5deg with decent quality for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in good locations. Pinot Meunier was less ripe. We were very lucky with the weather, the sunshine saved the unmature Pinot Noir and Meunier.’
‘We have never seen such a large variation in ripeness levels between the best ones, Chardonnays, which are experiencing a truly great vintage, both in the Grande Vallée and the Côte des Blancs, and the worst ones, Pinot Meuniers, which are barely average,’ said Jean-Herve Chicquet at Jacquesson.
With the damp humid weather of early September there were worries about rot, but from September 17 (September 12th was the official first day of picking) the weather changed with dry sunny days and cool evenings allowing Pinot Noir to ripen and keeping the rot at bay.
Chardonnay performed best with Pinot Meunier suffering the worst of the ripeness and rot problems.
The maximum yield of 13,000 kilos per hectare (around 312m bottles), 1,500kg/ha of which has to be put into the qualitative reserve, should easily be reached all over the appellation as agronomic yields were between 14 and 17,000kg/ha.
‘There is some rot in some situations, mainly with Pinot Meunier, but it’s nothing we can’t manage,’ said Moët & Chandon’s Chef de Cave Benoît Gouez. ‘With real yields around 14,000kg/ha we could be selective at picking and rot shouldn’t affect the quality at all.’
Italy27 September 2005
Overall, 2005 is unlikely to be a good year for Italian wines. Pre-harvest conditions in Tuscany and the north of the country have been far from ideal although winemakers in the south and in Sicily should have been spared the worst of the weather.
The weather also affected vineyards in the north with hailstorms being reported in Piedmont, although the damage is reported to be localised.
Tough weather conditions often mean that the best producers will have the best results and this is likely to be a vintage for producers who pay the most attention to their vines. Only time will tell exactly how bad – or good – this year has been for Italy,
‘Fertility was lower than last year and, for this same reason, together with a phenolic potential that is 20-30% higher than in 2004 indicating a complex and structured wine, the premises for our current optimism are well-founded,’ said Leonardo Raspini at Ornellaia.
Climate conditions have been erratic with many producers saying it’s been a tough and difficult vintage. Earlier this summer the warm weather was such that producers were talking of drought – as experienced in much of Europe – until the rains came in mid-August.
In Chianti, producers across the board have complained about the cold, wet weather prior to the harvest.
Piedmont experienced a series of problems, from hailstorms and rainy weather to vineyards attacked by Baco 22A disease which causes vines to dry out and die.
Yields are likely to be low, but not due to the initial prediction of drought. Although bud-break and ripening have been far from uniform in many areas, rain, hail, mould and disease will have affected vines up and down the country. However, southern areas such as Sicily will have had a better time of things.
California14 September 2005
With the vintage yet to get under way proper, it’s difficult to tell how good it will be. However, winemakers have hailed this as a ‘good vinatge’ and despite weather difficulties, they have variously described the vintage as ‘superb’ and ‘spectacular’ with grapes of ‘beautiful, massive flavour’.
Most producers in California are waiting for the hot days to return although in some cases rain has been forecast. This will be a late and difficult vintage for California. Whether this affects the quality of the resulting wines will depend on the producer.
‘If this first harvest is an indicator of what the 2005 Zinfandel will be, I think we are in for a superb vintage,’ said Eric Baugher at Ridge Vineyards.
Flavours are leaning towards fruity, and there is not a great concentration of vegetal flavours present,’ said Opus One winemaker, Michael Silacci.
‘Overall the fruit is reminding me of what we saw in 1997,’ said Elias Fernandez, winemaker at Shafer. ‘That was an unusual year in that crop loads were fairly high and thanks to extended cool weather and hang time we harvested fruit with beautiful, massive flavour.’
Unless the weather gets hot soon, most producers will begin picking within the next few weeks, around late September.
The cooler weather this year may well have suited Pinot Noir with producers Domaine Carneros, Merryvale and Goldeneye all singing its praises. Alcohol levels will be lower than usual but this is unlikely to cause concern.
‘The still Pinot Noir grapes have started to come in with great flavour depth and balance but with lower sugars which will result in lower alcohols (a blessing),’ said Eileen Crane at Domaine Carneros.
Crane called the sparkling Pinot Noir cuvées ‘spectacular’.
‘Quality overall looks good,’ said Zachary Rasmuson at Goldeneye. ‘Colour extraction for Pinot Noir seems to be excellent. The clusters and berries are extremely small, so we are seeing resulting wines of great intensity.’
‘Sauvignon Blanc has also been very good, with the last of it at the cool end of Napa Valley still hanging, ripening very slowly,’ said Steve Test, head of winemaking at Merryvale. ‘It has good flavour and substantial acidity.’
Without a doubt it’s been a cool and testing year for winemakers throughout California.
‘It has been a difficult year of farming,’ said Rasmuson. ‘Weather has been moderate – no heat spells like 2002, 2003 and 2004.’
The Californian spring this year was unusually cool and rainy.
‘It rained cats and dogs during the winter and spring in Napa Valley,’ said Michel Silacci, winemaker at Opus One. ‘By the end of March, we were a few inches over average total rainfall for the season. In May an additional five inches fell.’
The growing season, however, has been normal with budbreak and veraison occurring generally on time. The cool weather of the last few weeks has slowed things down though.
‘Cool spring set us back, but we had about three weeks of heat in July that got us caught up again,’ said Cheryl Durzy at Clos La Chance. ‘Everything else has been fairly even. Even ripening, even temperatures. All good things!’
‘We are waiting on good weather,’ said Pete Seghesio at Seghesio on 8 September. ‘While a few lots have trickled in, most of our lots are still a week of hot weather away. We have daytime temps around 75 – 80F. We need to see 90F to get things moving. Quality could be very good, if we get the heat. It feels like Seattle, San Francisco or London here!’
‘The harvest won’t start until the second week of October, and may delay further. The rains shouldn’t arrive until after the harvest,’ said Hugh Davies, winemaker at Schramsberg Vineyards.
Variation in ripening is also causing problems with producers having to do several forays into the vineyards.
‘Extreme variation in the Central Coast, the micro climates are very defined,’ said Peachy Canyon vintner Jake Beckett. ‘For example, we harvested a small block of Zinfandel located just west of Paso on the North end of town on the 8th that came in at 25.5 brix, and on the same day sampled some Zin – also on the west side, but on the South end of town off of highway 46 – and it came in at 18 brix!’
Unlike Europe, this year’s Californian harvest should be up in volume by around 9%, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
‘Crops should be higher than normal yet could deliver the best quality yet,’ said Davies.
‘Heavy crop loads this year, lots of thinning going on,’ said Beckett.
‘The past several years have bought abnormally low yields in the Sauvignon Blanc varieties, so this year’s “normal” crop level can be startling at times,’ said Kim Nicholls at Markham Vineyards.
Bordeaux6 September 2005
It’s difficult to give even initial forcasts as the harvest has only really kicked off in the Graves region south of Bordeaux. By now, most of the white varieties in the region should be in the chais with the reds coming in as we speak.
‘The Sauvignon Blanc is showing well,’ said Jean-Louis Vivière, of the Graves wine body. ‘We’ll have to wait and see for the reds.’
‘The reds are in a perfect, healthy state,’ said a spokeswoman for first growth Château Haut-Brion.
‘This is really looking like one of the best harvests for a very, very long time,’ said a spokesman for Château Olivier.
At Domaine de Chevalier, the white grapes are currently being picked, with the first Merlots forecast to be picked in about two weeks.
‘The grapes have optimal health and their balance is excellent,’ said Rémi Edange at Domaine de Chevalier.
Along with the rest of Europe, drought in the Graves region will have affected certain vineyards.
‘There has been a very, very heavy drought,’ said Vivière. ‘Although there was a storm last week (18 August) young vines or those in deep gravel soil will have problems.’
In the Graves, production should be lower than recent averages. The rest of Bordeaux, however, is looking at yet another bumper harvest following the huge crop of 2004. While production this year will not hit 2004 volumes, initial estimates say the Bordeaux harvest should still be up on average. According to the head of the Bordeaux wine trade body (CIVB), Christian Delpeuch, this is not a good thing. With 1m hectolitres of surplus wine left over from last year and exports continuing to fall, many winemakers in Bordeaux will have to limit their harvest or face increasing stockpiles of unsold wine.
Burgundy6 September 2005
Initial reports say Burgundy 2005 is set to be a great harvest quality-wise. Some commentators are even saying that this year’s Burgundy will outshine Bordeaux. How much of this is the usual producer hype is hard to say. It is, though, shaping up to be a good year for the region.
‘The grape bunches on both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are well formed and getting plenty of air,’ said Odile Meurgues, head of the technical department at the BIVB, Burgundy’s regional wine trade body. ‘They are exceptionally healthy. The vines have escaped any and all infections. A characteristic of this year’s Pinot Noir is the thickness of its skins – a pointer to colour and structure in the wines. The grapes are already high in sugar and the sugar/acidity balance is excellent for fruit at this stage in maturation.’
Picking, for the white varieties, should begin within the next 5 to 10 days.
According to the BIVB the region as a whole has experienced good weather conditions throughout the summer with mostly dry, sunny days and cool nights. Rain fell across the region on 19 August, bringing the water table up when drought was threatening the vines.
‘The rain came at just the right moment,’ said BIVB president Michel Baldassini. ‘Obviously, we shall be watching the development of the grapes very closely in the days ahead, but all the conditions for a great vintage are coming together.’
Diffucult to say but, like most of Europe, initial forecasts indicate a drop in production volume-wise. How significant this drop will be is unknown but it should be below the average for recent years.
Port6 September 2005
Much like Spain, the Port harvest this year should be small in quantity but good in quality. Vines located in high areas as well as old vines with deep roots will produce the best grapes as they will have been able to best deal with the dry weather. Disease will not be a factor this year due to the exceptionally dry weather.
Despite the huge forest fires that raged throughout the country in the middle of August, the country’s wine production was unaffected. Portugal’s cork trees, which are planted mainly in the south of the country, were also unaffected, although it was a close thing for some winemakers.
‘The fires near Coimbra haven’t, for the moment, affected the 2004 Bairrada vintage despite getting very close, or even on, some vines,’ said Vigário Messias at Caves Messias.
‘For late ripening grapes, like the Baga, the climate is good if there is enough water,’ said leading Bairrada wine producer Luís Pato.
Like Spain, the situation is serious. In some cases, rainfall over the last eight months is 64% down on average.
‘There has effectively been no rain at all since May,’ said Paul Symington of Symington Family Estates, which includes houses such as Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s.
Low water levels have reduced the size of the berries and in some cases, leaves have dried out completely.
‘Conditions are very tough for vines,’ said Miles Edlmann, Symington’s viticulturalist.
‘The dryness is doing some bad things like grapes burnt by the hot temperatures and lack of water in most sandy, poor soils,’ said Pato.
Yields will be down – significantly so – on the already low levels the Douro region is used to. The Port Wine Institute has fixed the total production of Port to 120,000 pipes of must. This is 10% below the expected sales of Port worldwide this year. Although the drop in production reflects the role the dry weather has played in this year’s harvest it is likely to increase prices for Port and table wine grapes in 2005.
Spain6 September 2005
Despite a huge drop in production, this year’s Spanish wine harvest should be of good quality. Drought and heat may have affected the vines but the weather has kept pests and fungii at bay. Fruit quality should be good but producers will have had to watch acidity levels and balance should be key.
It’s been a very hot and dry year for the country. The drought in Spain is one of the worst on record and current figures (6 September) show that the end is still not in sight. In some places, water reservoirs are down to 13% of their usual capacity.
After an abundant crop in 2004, production this year should be down and, in some cases, significantly so. The heat and drought across much of Spain has reduced yeilds significantly. Government figures say production could drop by around 14% but some producers are saying that heat has claimed 25% of their crop. The situation is such that producers in northwestern Spain have been at loggerheads with their Portuguese counterparts over use of the river Duero’s water for irrigation.
In the Ribera del Duero producers on the ground are predicting a massive 40% drop in harvest. Penedès, in the north east of the country is predicting a similar, if not larger, fall.
Interestingly, Rioja producers are touting their ‘microclimate’ as being fundamental to the region’s good water levels.
Overall, government figures say 2005 should produce around 40-43m hectolitres (hl) across the board. Spain’s harvest last year reached 50m hl.
South Africa22 February 2005
Although too early to give a definitive verdict – in many cases, only half of the grapes, mainly white varieties and pinotage, have been harvested – this looks to be a good vintage. Weather conditions were erratic but helpful, providing rain and sunshine to aid the ripening process. Vineyard management, however, will have been critical to ensure the changing conditions did not adversely affect the grapes.
‘The Sauvignon Blanc came in with lovely flavours and the Chardonnay seems not to be affected by the weather,’ said Warwick Estate winemaker Louis Nel. ‘The Pinotage seems to have great colour intensity this year and this should show in the final wine.’
The changing weather conditions will have helped to produce balanced wines although skills in the vineyard will have been crucial to this.
The one talking point of the vintage. Many reports point to the see-saw weather conditions, especially in the weeks running up to the harvest. In Stellenbosch, South Africa’s main wine region, warm and dry weather was experienced up to January. This helped the flowering, set and ripening process as well as relieving disease pressure on the vines although some vineyards will have experienced vine stress due to the drought.
‘We were blown away by the precocity of the vintage, almost the earliest at Klein Constantia,’ said winemaker Adam Mason, ‘and this year we have almost a degree of alcohol to boot.’
A heatwave hit Stellenbosch in in the middle of January, followed by cool spell and thunderstorms a week later. This delayed the harvest and helped to bring the speed of ripening down a little.
‘The red varieties on unirrigated sites benefited greatly from the rain while with the whites we had to wait a few days for the water to dissipate from the vines,’ said Nel.
To the north, the Olifants River Valley seems to have been spared the thunderstorms and the climate has remained generally warm throughout. Walker Bay has experienced a similar weather pattern to Stellenbosch, about 75km north-west.
This year’s production is likely to be down by about 5% on the average with industry estimates placing the grape harvest at 1.2m tons. Despite the rain-providing thunderstorms, an overall shortage of water throughout the growing season will have impacted on yields, especially in the Robertson, Orange River, Malmesbury and Worcester regions.
New Zealand22 February 2005
Too early to say with harvesting not yet under way although picking should start soon. Despite the cold weather during flowering and fruit set reducing yeilds, the recent sunshine – if it holds – should make for good quality.
‘Currently, our vineyards are at the state of veraison. If the weather continues we will be looking in very good shape,’ said Kevin Judd of Marlborough’s Cloudy Bay. ‘The slightly lower crops will mean good concentration of fruit.’
At Fromm Winery, also in Marlborough, their one block of Malbec has been badly affected by the weather.
‘Pinot Noir and Chardonnay set very well with just enough “hen and chicken” [small, sweet berries within bunches of larger berries] to reduce crop to a balanced level. Merlot and Syrah have a full set and will need green harvesting,’ said Fromm’s Sigrun Steinhagen
‘Spring was cooler than average, resulting in a slower start with moderate growth,’ said Steinhagen.
The unseasonably cool weather over flowering in December, which also saw heavy rains into the beginning of January, will have affected crop levels. Then, by mid-January, the weather had improved considerably with hot, dry summer weather. If this continues, things will be looking good for the harvest.
Levels this year should be down. Over the past few years, crop levels have gone fluctuated greatly. After last year’s bumper crop – an all-time record and over 50% up on 2003 – this year’s production levels will struggle to compete, mainly due to the cold weather over December and early January.
‘Crops are looking on the low side of average,’ said Judd.
Jancis Robinson, who was in New Zealand recently, claims that production in Central Otago is ‘much lower than feared’ with yeilds affected by new plantings and poor fruit set.
Even if yeilds are down this year, the stocks of 2004 should be able to deal with demand. Some reports are saying that more grapes will be harvested this year as recently planted vines start to bear fruit.
‘I don’t think there’s going to be a shortage of wine but I don’t think we are going to have a huge crop,’ said Mike Trought of the Marlborough Wine Research Centre.
Australia24 February 2005
Again, it is too early to give more precise verdicts than the growers’ tentative predictions. In the Eden Valley Pewsey Vale winemaker Louisa Rose is confident despite unusual weather conditions in the area.
‘The Riesling is still some weeks away from being ripe, although the flavours are already showing the typical citrus characters. The small planting of Pinot Gris will be hand-picked next week. Early indications are that fruit flavours should also be as good as ever,’ she said.
Over in Western Australia, the weather has been cooler and drier than normal with reduced fruit set. The first week of February saw a few thunderstorms. Consequently some vineyards have experienced berry split, especially in Semillon and Chardonnay bunches.
‘Fruit set in whites, particularly Suavignon Blanc, has been reduced although this will have a direct result on quality being improved. Reds are looking in good shape with promising fruit flavours developing in all varieties,’ says Cape Mentelle viticulturalist Steve Meckiff.
‘Another heat trough is expected to be sucked in to the coastal regions by the time of harvest, warming up to near perfect ripening conditions’ say the winemakers at Vasse Felix. ‘Although there is increasing pressure and risk of Botrytis in Chardonnay and Semillon. Early fruit samples suggest that sugar ripeness may be accelerated this year while acids still remain relatively high. The Merlot appears to be suffering from poor set and delayed veraison being behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in both northern and southern vineyards. Chardonnays have smaller than normal berries providing some acid zip. Harvest in 2005 will start with the Sauvignon Blanc from the warmer sites on 21 February with Chardonnay and Verdelho pencilled in for the first week. A burst of sunshine and warmer temperatures for 3-4 days will see the fruit delivered to the winery with perfect ripeness.’
Although the weather has been capricious and yields are likely to be down, quality should be good with a generally cooler year than most with sunny forecasts for the harvest.
Generally very mixed conditions all round the country but on the whole it looks like 2005 has been a bit of a battle against the elements for the viticulturalists.
‘This season has been far from “normal”,’ says Rose.
If disease and pest pressure have been low, the wet and unseasonal weather is likely to have reduced the yields instead, inducing uneven bud break and set. This year is likely to test the vineyard management teams across Australia. In New South Wales, mainly in the Riverina region, storms in the third week of January have seen some vineyards reporting losses of, on average, 10% although some vineyards have reported 50% destruction of this year’s crop. Mudgee was also affected although the neighbouing Hunter Valley seems to have been spared.
To the west, at Cape Mentelle, rainfall has been well below average up to the end of 2004.
‘The growing season has been similar to 2004,’ says Meckiff. No rain was recorded from mid-January to the beginning of February
Yields are likely to be down this year. The weather is to be held largely responsible for any decline in production although with fears of a red wine glut still hanging around, this is unlikely to worry the majority. Additionally, production levels are unlikely to drop by a worrying amount. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) has predicted that around 1.83m tonnes of grapes are likely to be crushed – representing a 3% drop in production.
Chile15 September 2005
The white wines produced in this season, given the climatic and handling conditions in the vineyard and in the cellar, are of good to very good quality in all areas.
The wines are fruity, most of them with medium intensities and volumes, very fresh and mineral. The outstanding characteristic this year is the freshness of the fruit, and Sauvignon Blanc with lower alcohol than last year.
The red wines already finished have already been classified as good to extraordinary quality.
They have very good colour, good body, and a particular lively fruitness across the board.
This season, the slow ripening process under the warm summer temperatures helped producers to harvest grapes with a very good sugar/acidity balance, obtaining red wines with consistent fruit and good phenolic ripeness.
The 2004-2005 season started with a spring a little colder than usual in most parts of the country. According to some reports, valleys in the central area were experiencing lower temperatures than in 2003-2004. There were some low rains in spring which affected low temperatures.
During spring there also were frosts in the Casablanca Valley, which caused damage to vines in some of the colder areas of the valley. Frost also appeared between Curicó and Molina, towards the coast, and in Romeral. Chardonnay suffered the most with some vineyards, especially around Curicó, losing 20-30% of their crop.
The summer also proved to be slightly cooler than average, which delayed the ripening process.
Three major rains fell in the season but thanks to their distribution, they were of no great concern for growers. In most part of the country it rained in March 11, with an intensity that went from 3mm in the Itata Valley, 5 to 10mm in the Curicó and Maule Valleys, 10 to 15mm in the Colchagua Valley and 15 to 20mm in Maipo, San Antonio, Casablanca and Aconcagua. Although some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc vineyards were affected by botrytis, the damage was minimal and had no effect on red grapes.
Around 60mm fell on May 4, drenching plots of unpicked Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. However, the low temperatures of this month and the atmospheric dryness did not encourage the development of rots and the grape was harvested in good condition.
The last rain was on May 9 – by which time nearly all the grapes had been harvested.
The cold weather conditions this year lead to grapes ripening slowly. Sauvignon Blanc was harvested several weeks – in some cases, four weeks – later than the previous year. The Casablanca Valley was one of the last to be harvesting, finishing at the end of April. The Chardonnay was harvested around one or two weeks later than normal.
As for the red varieties, it seemed that they too would be coming into the wineries around two to three weeks late. However, as temperatures increased throughout the last days of February, most varieties were only harvested a week behind schedule.
Some producers in the Casablanca Valley reported grape losses, mainly Chardonnay and a little Sauvignon Blanc due to sour rot and grey rot.
Most of the producers in the valley, however, were only marginally affected – if at all. Most vineyards estimated the losses to their crop of between five and 10%.
Some producers, whose grapes had no phytosanitary program and were in low and colder areas, estimated losses as high as 50%. In the San Antonio Valley the situation was similar to that of the Casablanca Valley.
Grey rot affected the Sauvignon Blanc in the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó and Maule Valleys, with fruit losses below 10% in most cases.
That said, Sauvignon Blanc saw an increase in volume of around 7% and Chardonnay production also increased, this time by around 5%. All this despite lower initial estimates by producers due to frosts, straggly bunches, oidium and botrytis.
The red varieties were not so fortunate. Merlot was down in production by around 20%, with Carmenere expected to be down by the same amount. The other red grapes were harvested at normal levels.