Harvest reports 2007

Previous harvest reports: 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005| 2006 2007 reports by Richard Woodard France Bordeaux Burgundy Champagne Rhône Valley Loire Valley Alsace Languedoc Roussillon Europe Spain Italy Portugal (Port) Portugal (table wine) Germany Austria USA California Oregon Washington State Have your say Post your comments on the 2007 harvest here

Bordeaux

Verdict

It’s a been a crazy year for the Bordelais, characterised by erratic weather and rescued by an almost perfect early autumn. Early assessments of quality are influenced by widespread relief that the weather came good at the end, but it’s generally a year of high acidity, relatively low alcohol and reduced yields.

For Jean-Christophe Mau of Yvon Mau, 2007 will be remembered as the year that ‘broke all the rules’, involving a long, drawn-out harvest and a phenomenally long growing season – 130 days compared to the norm of 110.

Kick-started by a hot April, driven to the brink of disaster by a cold, wet summer and saved by a sunny September, 2007 is likely to be a minefield in Bordeaux. It’s not a year to reward the lazy vigneron or winemaker, with constant work needed in the vineyard to ward off the threat of mildew and rot – and then to reduce yields in the run-up to harvest.

The results? Widespread optimism for the whites, with greater aromatic intensity than in 2006, despite uneven ripening. Principal characteristics, says Yvon Mau, are freshness of aroma and good mouthfeel – but the company warns that the way in which the lees are worked in the winery will be crucial to success.

Sweet whites are trickier, with lesser appellations in particular struggling to accumulate adequate sugar in Semillon. ‘Only specialists in this type of wine will have been able to wait long enough for the sugars to concentrate,’ concludes Yvon Mau.

And the reds: Vins et Vignobles Dourthe is happy with colour, extraction and aromatic richness, but cites some evidence of higher acidity, with malic acid particularly evident. Fermentation was straightforward, the company says.

‘Clearly the vigneron had to work hard in the vineyard, especially during the attacks of mildew in the summer and to reduce yields prior to harvest,’ says Philippe Bardet, of Ch Val d’Or in St-Emilion and Ch Picoron (Côtes de Castillon).

‘However, overall I think this is a winemaker’s year. First of all, in terms of picking the right time to pick (later than originally planned) and secondly in terms of managing the extraction of anthocyanins and tannin so as to achieve good balance of colour and balance.’

And he adds: ‘This is not a year for those who like their Bordeaux to taste of Port – I am confident my wines will be well-balanced and will provide good early drinking.’

Weather

February was mild enough, but nothing prepared the Bordelais for April: the warmest since 1949, with mean temperatures 4.4C above normal. What followed was a complete contrast – although May to August was not especially cold and wet by the standards of the past 30 years, there was a chronic lack of sunshine.

May was 71 hours down on mean levels, June 26 hours down, July 40 hours short and August ten hours deficient. So the Bordelais were thanking their lucky stars for September, which was one of the sunniest since the Second World War.

The effect of this climatic rollercoaster was as follows: budburst at the end of March and, after April’s warmth, a growing cycle ten days ahead of average. But such was the dull weather that followed that flowering took place a week later than last year, with significant millerandage and some coulure into the bargain.

Then wet weather between May and July brought a constant threat of mildew – one of the worst in the past 30 years ago, says Dourthe. And although August began warm and sunny, rain and cooler weather soon returned, swelling the berries and creating huge variety in the relative development of various plots and vineyards. Only September sun – as well as patience and rigorous selection in the vineyard – saved the day.

Production

Total production looks set to drop below 2006’s level of 5.9m hectolitres, thanks mainly to lower yields among red grapes and among Cabernet in particular. However, white grape yields were normal.

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Burgundy

Verdict

The ever-changing weather patterns of 2007 are likely to create huge variations in style and quality for the wines of Burgundy. An excellent beginning and end to the growing year was marred by dull, cool and wet weather during June, July and August, making mildew an ever-present threat and creating extra work in the vineyards.

That meant that good weather into September was crucial – and the region’s prayers were answered. Nonetheless, only those who have applied the most stringent selection process to their grapes, eliminating unripe berries or those suffering from grey rot, will have made good wines.

Anthony Hanson MW, senior consultant at Christie’s International Wine Department, finds ‘concentrated fruit, minerality and freshness’ in early-picked Hospices de Beaune Chardonnays, with later fruit showing more sugar, but still some vivacity.

‘From the reds, we cannot expect the ripely tannic, mid-palate structures of a hot-summer vintage,’ he continues. ‘But many wines are deliciously fruity.’

The up-and-down weather made yield reduction and vineyard selection all the more crucial this year. For Hospices de Beaune vineyard manager Roland Masse, ‘C’est l’année des Pinots fins’ – in other words, it’s a year where low-yielding Pinot Noir with small bunches – known as Pinots Fins – have come into their own.

According to the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne), the unusual nature of the vintage is illustrated by the fact that Mâcon and Chablis started their harvests last and at the same time.

The BIVB also says that quality was only maintained ‘through meticulous work throughout the winemaking process’, adding: ‘The wine-growers were right to opt for drastic crop-sorting and only keep the very finest grapes.’

Weather

Spring was kind to Burgundy, with the sunny, warm April kickstarting growth, while continued good weather into May allowed a relatively early flowering in middle to end of the month.

But then came the drab summer, with June, July and August all cooler and wetter than recent years and, most importantly, lacking in sunshine. This created an ever-present threat of powdery and downy mildew, with constant vineyard vigilance the key.

Fine, sunny weather from the end of August – crucially accompanied by a drying northerly wind – rescued the harvest, creating optimum conditions for picking. Nonetheless, rigorous grape selection was needed where ripening was uneven, or where grey rot had set in before the dry weather came.

Production

No figures have yet been released, but production is set to be relatively low due to the necessary elimination of immature or rotten fruit.

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Champagne

Verdict

Champagne’s second earliest harvest date since records began came at the end of a year of highly variable conditions, with uneven grape maturity and Chardonnay currently looking more promising than Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Fine weather from the end of August, as elsewhere, saved the vintage from possible catastrophe, although the dull, wet summer has affected the quality of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in particular.

Acidity is higher and alcohol lower than in recent years, returning the region to more ‘normal’ conditions after the warmth of recent vintages.

There’s cautious optimism among many producers, although the management of individual vineyards is likely to prove crucial. Anyone tempted to take advantage of the increase in maximum permitted yields by driving their vineyards hard was likely to suffer from uneven ripeness – necessitating careful bunch selection.

And some patience was also required – some growers may have been tempted to pick early, worried that continued wet weather would completely ruin the crop. However, some temporarily stopped picking, such was the uneven ripeness they found in the vineyards – and those who waited were generally rewarded with better quality and maturity.

Hail decimated some localised areas in the run-up to picking in the southern Aube area, driving down quantities still further after unripe and rotten fruit was removed.

Weather

That early picking date is all the more remarkable, coming as it did at the end of Champagne’s cloudiest ever summer since records began. As elsewhere in Europe, its primary cause was the mild end to winter, leading into an extremely warm, sunny April and an early flowering date.

The cool and wet conditions persisting through the summer made rot a constant threat, although the warmer, drier weather from the end of August saved the vineyards from the worst effects.

The early picking date may revive talk of climate change altering the character of the wines of Champagne – but, ironically enough, the cooler, duller conditions may create a more ‘old-style’, acidic vintage with lower alcohol.

Production

This was the first year under the newly installed maximum yield of 15,500kg/ha, although most growers will not have attained that production level. Likely average yields of 14,000kg/ha could bring total production close to 400m bottles, a new record thanks to more vineyards now coming on stream in Champagne.

However, not all of that will come into the supply chain – at least, not instantly. The base yield has been set at 12,400kg/ha (roughly 340m bottles), with the surplus going into the quality reserve to hedge against poor future harvests and future sales increases.

And yields in some areas – particularly where hail was a factor – will fall well below these levels – as low as 8,000kg/ha in places. As demand for Champagne grows, that has pushed up the price of grapes by about 5% across the board, with some major houses paying 7-8% more to obtain grapes from sought-after areas.

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Rhône Valley

Verdict

Despite the temperamental weather conditions throughout the growing season, testing the skill and perserverance of the Rhône Valley’s winemakers, the harvest progressed smoothly over a succession of bright sunny days. Grapes were picked in a healthy condition, with the reds showing good depth of colour and soft tannins, and the whites boasting good, ripe aromatic qualities with balanced levels of alcohol and acidity.

Among the optimists is Marcel Guigal: ‘The Rhône is lucky, and Côte-Rôtie even luckier. The vintage looks consistent with good colour extraction, well-structured tannins and balance.’

Yves Cuilleron is more cautious. ‘It’s still early to make a prediction,’ he says. ‘It’s a good vintage, but difficult to say at this moment if it will become a great vintage; possibly comparable to 1996. The reds have good concentration of colour and tannins, and the whites show good ripeness and acidity.’

Meanwhile, Jaboulet winemaker Jacques Desvernois dubs 2007 the ‘vintage of patience’, waiting until September 28 to harvest the red grapes. He is impressed by the aromatic quality and vivacity of the white grapes.

‘A good vintage for those who waited. The reds have silky tannins and good ripeness,’ sums up Jean-Louis Chave.

Weather

After a mild winter with low precipitation, the growing season was already under threat from the lack of water, but at least it was frost-free. The exceptionally high spring temperatures, the highest recorded in ten years, provoked early budding at the beginning of April, as in 2003.

Although budding was a month in advance, the floraison period was prolonged, due to a chilly wet spell with around 140mm of rain in late May. This, particularly for the Syrah, resulted in a significant amount of coulure, notably in the northern vineyards, which limited yields but assisted in airing the grapes later in the growing season.

The northern part of Côte-Rôtie and localised patches of Condrieu suffered hail damage in June, affecting the Côte Brune in particular badly.

During the cool, wet conditions over the summer months the grapes became heavy and plump, but with little concentration of polyphenols. The dip in temperatures and the rise in humidity sparked an invasion of mildew, and some oïdium.

Relief came with the wind from the north, blowing cold and dry, diminishing the risk of pourriture, and increasing the natural concentration of the grapes. Finally, in September, fine sunny weather arrived and patient growers harvested grapes with good maturity.

Production

Production levels are average for Condrieu, St-Joseph, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, but Côte-Rôtie is almost 25% down on 2006, thanks to June’s hail.

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Loire Valley

Verdict

The pattern across France – good quality from those willing to put in the work in the vineyard – was repeated in the Loire, with wine broker Charles Sydney likening 2007 at this early stage to 2002.

Then, as this year, a sunny September rescued the vintage from cooler, wetter weather earlier in the year. ‘It’s infinitely better than we expected at the end of August,’ says Sydney.

It’s looking good for Muscadet and Touraine Sauvignon in particular, while growers had to move fast in Vouvray to avoid rot setting in with Chenin Blanc. And, according to Sydney, producers in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé ‘can be heard to mutter about unexpected miracles’, such was the climatic turnaround.

Picking of the reds started at the end of September, although better quality is expected from grapes picked a little later. The wines are likely to lack the phenolic maturity of 2003 or 2005, but growers picked at respectable alcohol levels of 11.5-13 degrees.

Weather

The growing season was given a rapid start by the remarkably warm, sunny weather in April, although this didn’t last, with the summer months in particular providing cool, damp and very dull weather which slowed maturation and made growers very nervous about prospects for the vintage.

But fine, dry weather from the end of August provided all-but perfect harvest conditions, offsetting the earlier swelling of the grapes from the rain and minimising the risk of rot.

However, mildew was a constant danger during the summer, demanding constant vigilance and periodic treatments from growers. Even then, careful selection at harvest was needed thanks to the unseasonal summer.

Production

No official figures yet, but quantities are likely to be down on last year thanks to careful fruit selection and some problems during fruit-set. However, the swelling of grapes thanks to the wet weather may compensate for this.

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Alsace

Verdict

‘Considering the climate over the year, 2007 can be added to the list of atypical vintages.’ Given the rollercoaster growing season in the region, the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) can be accused of a degree of under-statement.

Growers may be happy with the final results, but that doesn’t tell the full story of a year which began with a phenomenally warm spring – at one point, the growing cycle was one month ahead of schedule – continued with showers, clouds and cool temperatures and finished with a textbook sunny September. And that’s without mentioning the June hailstorms which devastated local areas.

But the result, says the CIVA, is a ‘crop of perfectly healthy grapes at an optimum level of ripeness, achieving both quality and quantity’.

Pinot Noirs are on the soft, fruity side – reflecting that cool growing season – while Pinot Gris boasts an aromatic, honeyed character. Early reports of Riesling are promising, while good conditions in late autumn have encouraged the development of a good crop of Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles wines.

Weather

Where to begin? April and May saw temperatures frequently above 30C, leading to flowering around May 25, fully one month earlier than normal.

But thoughts of a record-breakingly early harvest were dispelled by a showery June and cool, cloudy July and August, wiping out the earlier gains in maturity. More serious by far were the June hailstorms which struck at the heart of the region, completely destroying the crop in 400ha of vineyards, and leading to a partial loss in 1,200ha more.

And then? ‘Alsace then enjoyed a wonderful month of September, with extraordinary anticyclonic conditions,’ says the CIVA. ‘Hot days and cool nights with practically zero precipitation enabled the grapes to ripen slowly to perfect maturity.’

Production

Lower than normal at around 1.2m hectolitres, but the CIVA remains confident that volumes will be sufficient to meet the currently growing demand for Alsace wines. End-of-season stock levels prior to harvest stood at 1.64m hl, 4.6% down on the previous year.

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Languedoc

Verdict

Bucking the trend seen throughout the rest of France, 2007 was a drought year for the vineyards of the Languedoc, accompanied by fresher temperatures which have created aromatic wines of some promise.

Whites are well-balanced between acidity and round fruit character, helped by a relatively cool July and a combination of hot days and cool nights in August. Reds are characterised by good colour, elegant tannins and well-developed fruit aromas.

‘We had thought the vintage would be early,’ says Laurent Sauvage, on behalf of Les AOCs du Languedoc, ‘but, as it turned out, it was the same as last year in some areas and later in others. The high quality is thanks to healthy vineyards and perfect harvesting conditions.’

For Christophe Bousquet at Ch Pech Redon in Coteaux du Languedoc, La Clape, 2007 is ‘a vintage close to 2003 in quantity and close to 2001 in quality’, while Sophie Dumoulin of Ch Liquière, Faugères, says: ‘The wind in the few days before harvest made the grapes very concentrated. The crop will be small, but very healthy. The first Roussanne grapes picked are very encouraging in regard to what the vintage will be like.’

Weather

A mild, dry winter was followed by replenishing rain in February and early March, leading into a warm, wet spring with early budbreak and strong winds to keep the vineyards relatively dry.

While the rest of France languished in cool, wet conditions, summer in the Languedoc was very dry, with rainfall 50-80% lower than average. However, July was cooler and fresher than usual, while August’s heat was tempered by lower night-time temperatures. Sunny days, cool nights and a drying northerly wind continued into harvest time.

Production

Sauvage describes volumes as ‘slightly reduced’, but anecdotal evidence from producers suggests that this may be an understatement. Several liken it to 2003 in terms of quantity, with Philippe Coste of Cave de la Tour St Martin in the Minervois lamenting: ‘There won’t be enough for everybody!’

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Roussillon

Verdict

The wine growers of Roussillon are claiming to have broken the ‘curse of the seven’ after experiencing difficult harvests in 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997. Indeed, some are bandying the words ‘great’ and ‘exceptional’ around – although quantities will be severely reduced by the ongoing effects of last year’s drought.

‘Whilst volumes produced in 2007 are very low, the quality of Roussillon’s latest vintage should go down in memory,’ says Eric Aracil, export manager at the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon (CIVR).

Whites and rosés at this early stage are showing good aromatic character and freshness, while reds are well-balanced and concentrated. The region’s Vins Doux Naturels are described as ‘promising’.

Weather

Early signs of maturity in the vineyards, set in motion by the warm spring, were delayed by a relatively cool August, slowing the ripening process before perfect conditions set in at the end of the month and throughout September.

The presence of the dry Tramontane wind from late August to early September was crucial to the healthy state of the grapes, with little sign of disease.

Production

Roussillon may have avoided a repeat of the drought of 2006, but its ongoing effects were still being felt in the vineyards, with quantities well down on normal. In particular, this was true of Muscat à Petits Grains, Syrah, Chardonnay and some Grenache. There was also an unusually high amount of bird damage.

The result is an estimated average drop in production of 21%, leaving average yields at about 30hl/ha, compared to the region’s traditional average of 40hl/ha. That is likely to equate to Roussillon’s smallest crop since records began.

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Germany

Verdict

Times are good for Germany. With Riesling in particular in high demand around the world, recent shortages will be eased by the 2007 crop, which follows a small harvest last year. And quality looks good almost across the board.

As elsewhere in Europe, the growing season was longer than usual, partly because of dull, cool weather in the summer, but also because of a ‘golden’ autumn, with good harvest conditions lasting well into October.

Among the highlights, growers in Baden are celebrating a ‘very good’ vintage, with impressive must weights for Spätburgunder and Riesling. Whites show good aromatic character and acidity, while reds are deep-coloured and should have good longevity.

Mosel growers are used to waiting, and this year’s Riesling harvest didn’t even begin until October. Nonetheless, the harvest was described as ‘stress-free’, yielding juice rich in minerals at the end of a phenomenally long growing season of up to 150 days.

Riesling from the Rheingau also benefited from the dry, sunny autumn, producing grapes described as ‘lusciously ripe’ in some sites – one producer achieved record must weights of over 300 degrees Oechsle. At the time of writing, some producers were anticipating a possible Eiswein harvest.

In the Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest vineyard area, comparisons are being drawn with the 2002 and 2004 crops, with growers talking of ‘wonderful qualities after an ideal autumn’ and ‘a sensational vintage’. Good acidity and aromas, accompanied by above average must weights, are the hallmarks of the vintage.

Weather

A perfect beginning and end to the growing season bracketed a rather grey, cool summer. Budburst was early thanks to the unseasonably warm April although there was a marked lack of sunshine throughout June to August.

But ideal autumn weather throughout September and into October meant that growers could wait for must weights to climb, allowing for a relatively unruffled but elongated harvest.

Production

A total crop of up to 11m hectolitres comes as a huge relief after the small 2006 harvest and warnings of imminent shortages of Riesling in particular. The larger crop should also calm inflationary grape pricing, which was threatening to become a serious issue.

Almost all regions reported production increases: Mosel was up by more than 10% on 2006, with other key regions like the Pfalz, Rheingau and Rheinhessen also reporting decent volumes.

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Italy

Verdict

Vintage 2007 is down in quantity throughout Italy but, according to Assoenologi’s (Associazione Enologi Enotecnici Italiani) post-harvest report, 2007 is a vintage with very good to excellent results, especially in central and northern Italy.

The early ripening varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc were picked at the beginning of August in Sicily and around August 6 in the north (Lombardy) and from August 20 in Tuscany.

The main bulk of the harvest in northern Italy took place during the second half of September, while at the time of writing the harvest was still going on for some of the later-ripening varieties such as Aglianico in the southern area of Avellino.

The north greatly benefited from the lengthy ripening season, producing wines with excellent aromatic profile and plentiful but ripe, velvety tannins.

Weather

The winter of 2006/7 was one of the mildest and driest recorded in the past 50 years. Spring temperatures in April were some of the highest in the past 50 years, while temperatures in July, especially in the centre and south of Italy, were some of the highest from the past five years.

Respite to high August temperatures came to the north and centre with some rainfall, which proved beneficial to production.

Production

According to Assoenologi, Italy’s 2007 harvest will reach a total quantity of 40.5m hectolitres, 18% down on 2006 (49.6m hl).

In the north, yields were 15-20% down on 2006, in particular in the western areas such as Piemonte and Lombardia. On the opposite side, Veneto and Friuli have an increase in production of 5-10%.

Tuscany recorded a 10% average dip in production levels this year. Here, the Sangiovese harvest began during the second week of September, ending with the later-ripening varieties around mid-October.

Quantities in the south are well down, with Sicily in particular recording a 40% dip in production levels – and as high as 55% in the Trapani area. Sardinia is down by 15%, Puglia by 30% and Campania by 20%.

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California

Verdict

Growers in California are full of praise for what should be one of the better vintages in recent years – characterised by a lengthy growing season, a drawn-out harvest and low yields.

After a rapid start to the growing cycle in the spring, cool weather slowed things down before the heat returned with a vengeance in late August. ‘At first it was run, run, get the grapes in before the sugars get too high,’ says Glenn Proctor of Ciatti Company in San Rafael.

But the pace slowed again with the return of cooler weather in the second week of September, causing many producers to hit the pause button with picking, before continuing at a more gentle speed. ‘It was like two crushes. Everyone was running in the beginning, waiting in the middle, then running at the end to get the grapes off before the rains in October,’ says Proctor.

‘The 2007 year is one of the better vintages in recent history,’ adds Vince Bonotto, Diageo Chateau & Estates Wines vice president, vineyard operations – overseeing Napa and Monterey. ‘There was a lighter crop and yields were down from the past few years, but quality is extremely good.’

In the Napa Valley, winemakers are particularly pleased with the quality of the crop, although they would ideally have liked higher volumes. For Dave Guffy, winemaker at The Hess Collection, 2007 is shaping up into the best vintage of the last decade.

The juice was characterised by good, deep colour, balanced acidity – and small berry size. ‘Berry size was small, smaller than we have seen in more than ten years, and the fruit developed intense varietal flavours with rich, mouth-filling tannins,’ reports Mark Gabrielli, Woodbridge Winery vice president/general manager.

Weather

The winter was mild and relatively dry, and budbreak came early. But, although cluster counts were high, fruit set was inconsistent, leaving loose bunches in many cases, and small berries.

The growing season proceeded in quite uneventful manner – cool and moderate, offsetting the advances of the early budbreak – before hot weather at the end of August, then cooler conditions into September.

The cooler weather brought rain, but most white grapes were already in before this hit the north coast, while thicker-skinned red grapes mostly stood up well to the wetter conditions.

Production

Early estimates from the California Department of Food and Agriculture indicate a crop of about 3.2m tons, only a fraction up on last year’s production levels and well down on 2005’s record-breaker.

North coast yields were 10-15% down on regular levels, while in the Central Coast, the figure was more like 35%. The lower than expected crop will help to bring the market back into balance after two years of over-supply.

Additional report by California correspondent Linda Murphy

‘For quality, California drew an ace’

A burst of sunshine in the final days of October brought an end to the 2007 harvest in California, one growers and winemakers describe with phrases such as ‘roller-coaster ride’ and ‘an encounter with ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ yet also with great glee.

‘Stunning is the only way to describe the 2007 vintage,’ said Michael Weis, winemaker at Groth Vineyards in Napa Valley. ‘Our biggest challenge was to figure out what we will do with ourselves between our Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon harvest –lunch, the beach, bocce ball, a nap? This vintage is one of healthy vines, no Botrytis, no raisins, long hang time and stunning fruit.’

Weis had time to rest because the harvest played like a soccer game, with two halves and a long break in between. A cold and unusually dry spring/early summer was followed by temperatures in the 90s in late August/early September, and vintners predicted that 2007 would be one of the earliest California vintages on record, quick and frantic, with white and red grapes flooding wineries at the same time.

Then came intermission and a rest for the vines and crews — three weeks of unseasonably cool, foggy days, with daytime temperature highs in the 70s in even the warmest of the prime regions. Ripening slowed to a snail’s pace. Another heat wave in late September got things going again, but rain, up to 1.5 inches in some areas in the second week of October, cooled the fever and presented a dilemma.

Those with grapes at higher elevations, and in cool regions such as Monterey County and Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, had to decide whether to pick the remaining grapes before the storm, or hold out for sun and more fruit maturity. The patient were rewarded when Indian summer conditions chased the showers, and crush proceeded calmly to completion for most producers by Nov. 1.

Although bud break came three weeks earlier than usual, vintage for most was finished by Halloween — as usual — so grapes got extra time on the vine and developed mature tannins and clean flavours. Yields were down throughout the state, yet from a quality standpoint, winemakers were pleased with the small clusters, tiny berries and great concentration.

‘We were worried, as I believe everyone was, after the almost two-week heat spell in late August/early September, but then it cooled down and the vines utilized the water that we had given them (through irrigation) and bounced right back,’ said Beth Novak Milliken, president of Spottswoode in Napa Valley. ‘It was a leisurely harvest; the quantity is off by about 20%, but the quality is very high.’

‘Overall quality is very good, though tonnage is down on some varieties,’ echoed Randy Ullom, who directs winemaking at Kendall-Jackson, based in Sonoma County. ‘The late September warmth definitely moved the grape sugars to their optimum levels more quickly, especially on our Napa and Sonoma mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flavours on the Central Coast are some of the finest we’ve seen in years.’

James Hall, who makes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from vineyards in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties for the Patz & Hall brand, said quality in 2007 ‘has been absolutely fantastic,’ thanks to low yields and very small berries. ‘The 2007 Pinots are some of the darkest and densest we’ve seen at Patz & Hall, full of exceptional Pinot fruit character, but structured and built for the long haul,’ he said. ‘This is a standout year that I believe is one of the finest Pinot Noir vintages in almost a decade.’

Chardonnays, he said, show fine texture and abundant flavors, with higher than normal acid levels, soft tannins and rich textures.

‘There is something about cooler years that seem to bring forth and accentuate more of the individual personality and nuance from our vineyard sites, and in this respect, 2007 has proven to be exceptional,’ Hall said.

Winemakers for A. Rafanelli, Ridge Vineyards and other Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) Zinfandel producers are equally as enthusiastic about 2007. Pedroncelli Winery’s John Pedroncelli spoke for most when he said, ‘The early evaluation of wine from Zinfandel grapes is very exciting and encouraging, possibly the best in the last 60 years. The wines have great colour, full berry flavors with great natural acid balance.’

Jeff Meier, senior vice president of winemaking at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, said he’s excited about his Monterey County Chardonnay, though again, yields are down; Pinot Noir has relatively high levels of ripeness and excellent color.

In Paso Robles, where J. Lohr produces several wines, Meier said, ‘In all cases – Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon – quality appears very high with excellent color, moderate tannin and beautiful fruit flavours — perhaps one of the best vintages since 1997.’

Santa Barbara County crops were small as well, and the region’s flagship variety, Pinot Noir, weathered the September heat. Some winemakers reported full flavors at lower alcohols – a welcome development to those sensitive to high-alcohol wines.

Climate change is certainly affecting California, though some of the state’s finest wine regions aren’t getting warmer, as some have predicted, but rather cooler. 2007 was the third straight ‘cool’ vintage in Napa Valley, for example, and it was also one of its driest, with half the average rainfall for the year. It’s clear that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ in California any more.

‘It’s too early to tell whether California is moving into a drought period,’ says Kendall-Jackson’s Ullom. ‘Every year, Mother Nature seems to deal us all a new set of cards.’

Yet for quality in 2007, California drew an ace.

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Portugal (table wine)

Verdict

It’s a small but good-quality year for Portugal’s table wine regions, with a problematically cool, wet summer reducing quantities, especially in the north of the country. But most producers seem happy with the results, with wines that are said to be fresh and balanced.

Mildew was a problem, but it seems to have affected quantity more than quality, although only growers who have worked hard in the vineyards will have earned good results. Painstaking fruit selection and the elimination of unripe fruit were both musts this year.

But for those willing to make such sacrifices, the rewards could be great. ‘With regular treatment, the vines are healthy and the ‘green harvest’ caused by mildew actually helped to improve the overall quality of the grape bunches which remained on the vines,’ says Luis Duarte of Herdade dos Grous in the Alentejo.

Generally speaking, the harvest was a late one by recent standards, with whites showing good freshness and aromatic qualities thanks to the cool summer, while reds show excellent colour, balance and concentration.

Weather

A cool year, with above-average rainfall, particularly throughout the summer months, but not so much rainfall as to put the vintage in jeopardy. But a sunny and warm autumn enabled a long, relatively trouble-free harvest.

Production

Down 15% on 2006, according to early estimates. Reduced yields were most pronounced in the north, with Vinho Verde production down 30%, Douro down 16% and Dão down 41%.

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Portugal (Port)

Verdict

It’s very early days for such assertions, but 2007 could well end up as a widely declared vintage after six weeks of fine weather at harvest saved a potentially exceptional harvest from the threat of rain.

Phenolic ripeness for Touriga Nacional was ‘ideal’, according to Symington Family Estates, while Tinta Barroca was this year transformed by cooler summer temperatures from its usual muscly structure into wines of elegance and finesse. Meanwhile, Tinta Roriz delivered excellent colour and fruit, and Touriga Franca had a superb year.

‘There is no doubt that the Douro Valley has produced some exceptional Ports and Douro DOC wines this year,’ the Symingtons add. ‘Their evolution in vat and cask over the coming months will be followed with great interest.’

Weather

A wet late autumn last year had replenished the Douro’s water tables – which was just as well, given the dry January, March and April which followed. Spring warmth started the growing cycle early, with budburst at least two weeks ahead of normal, and flowering much earlier than in 2004 and 2005.

By the time of fruit set in late May, however, the weather had turned, with overcast skies, cool weather and rain dominating the picture. That led to some desavinho or poor fruit set, and continued into a wet mid-June. Many growers, according to Symington Family Estates, failed to treat their vineyards because of a lack of money or a blind faith in the traditionally dry local weather. They suffered ‘substantial losses’ to fungal problems and mildew as a consequence.

The cool weather delayed veraison considerably into early August, but cool nights were bringing excellent polyphenolic development – traditionally viewed as one of the hallmarks of a great year. Even then, a wet September or early October could have ruined things, but – with some isolated exceptions – conditions were kind throughout the harvest.

Production

No figures available yet, but except a fall in production thanks to fungal problems for some growers, and rigorous grape selection for others.

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Austria

Verdict

Austria bucked this year’s European trend of cool, dull summer weather. An extremely hot summer invoked comparisons with 2003 before rain at the beginning of September broke the pattern. But quality still looks promising – where producers have worked hard in the vineyards and winery.

Winemakers endured a nervous time at harvest, with the decision of exactly when to harvest a tough one. Those who waited have been rewarded with aromatic white wines and good-quality, ‘piquant’ reds, according to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB). The late rains also helped the development of botrytis in the sweet wine heartland of Burgenland.

Good-quality Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are expected from the vineyards in the Danube Valley, while cool morning temperatures have encouraged the development of crisp, aromatic white wines in the Steiermark. And reds are ‘highly aromatic, fruity and finely structured’ in Thermenregion, Carnuntum and Burgenland, says the AWMB.

Weather

The hot summer made careful canopy work a must to prevent the grapes from suffering from sunburn, while the rains of early September demanded careful grape selection – although the cool and windy conditions which followed also helped to ward off rot.

Production

After two years of relatively low yields in 2005 and 2006, production looks set to hit around 2.5m hectolitres, roughly in line with average annual volumes over the past five years.

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Spain

Verdict

Spain’s 2007 harvest looks to be something of a mixed bag, characterised in general by lower alcohol, higher acidity and greater aromatic potential among white wines. But rain at various points of the growing cycle has made the year a challenging one for regions including Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rias Baixas and Priorat.

A long growing season has created intensely fruity white wines, for the most part, while reds are showing good colour, relatively high acidity and fine tannins. Harvest time was for the most part a long, drawn-out affair, punctuated locally by bursts of activity as pickers rushed to beat the rains.

Among the highlights, producers in Catalonia are expressing great hope for an excellent vintage, having escaped the worst of the rains. Priorat is a mixed bag, with earlier-picking areas looking good, while cooler districts were affected by rain at the end of September.

Similarly, in Rioja, vineyards in Rioja Baja were mostly picked when the rains hit, but Rioja Alta was not so lucky, leaving quality here in some doubt. Quantities are down thanks to mildew problems earlier in the year.

Ribera del Duero had an eventful season, with hailstorms before harvest, a hard frost in mid-September and showers during ripening. The biggest hailstorm affected some 4,000ha of vineyards near Burgos – but the vintage is far from being a disaster, producers say.

Elsewhere, yields were cut drastically in Rias Baixas because of mildew problems, and quantities of Tempranillo in particular are well down in Navarra. But Rueda producers are reporting ‘great aromatic potential’ for this year’s crop of Verdejo.

Weather

Broadly speaking, Spain shared the same weather patterns as the rest of western Europe: a warm spring, cool and dull summer, and a sunnier autumn – although some areas such as Rioja Alta and Priorat were affected by late September rains.

Hail was a problem in Ribera del Duero and the unusually damp summer created mildew in some areas. In general, the growing cycle was long and the harvest drawn-out.

Production

No collated figures available yet, but quantities are likely to be down thanks to localised mildew problems and greater selectivity at harvest because of uneven ripeness in some areas.

By region, Rioja production is down 2.2%, Navarra down 17%, Catalonia down 5-6%, Rias Baixas down 39% and Utiel-Requena up 12%. In Rueda, production leapt 24.2% to 52.7m kg – but this was mainly caused by a 23.7% increase in bearing vineyard area.

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Pacific North-West

Washington State

Verdict

Wine growers in Washington State are bullish about the prospects for the 2007 crop, which they describe as maturing under ‘nearly ideal’ weather conditions.

As in California, berry size was small, producing concentrated fruit flavours with good aging potential. ‘Mother Nature smiled on Washington State once again this year and provided an ideal climate for grapes,’ says Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

Weather

A warm spring accelerated the growing cycle, then cooler summer weather slowed things down before ideal autumn conditions – dry, warm and sunny – enabled a mostly trouble-free harvest.

Production

Total production for the state is set to hit 120,000 tons.

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Oregon

Verdict

Late September rains may have ruined what was looking like a great harvest in Oregon, but producers remain optimistic that the vintage will prove very good for whites – and surprisingly strong for reds too.

Rain was a feature from late September to late October, but growers were partly saved by the cool temperatures, which helped to ward off rot. Although red wines will favour red fruit flavours over the intense black fruit of 2006, producers say many wines have surprising levels of intensity and concentration, as well as finesse from good physiological ripeness and relatively low sugars.

Weather

A warm-ish spring was followed by moderate conditions throughout summer, allowing a gradual ripening with no major heat spikes – before the rains hit in late September.

Production

No estimates available yet.

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