2014 continues the briefly interrupted (2012 and 2013) trend to set new records.... Even if we were to get Siberian cold for the remaining 2 weeks of this year, 2014 would be recorded as the year with the highest median temperature in Germany during the last 100 years.
The winter of 2013/2014 was extremely mild. Little frost we had in the wine regions, it was not a severe cold and the few cold spells did not last long enough to freeze the soil nor kill pests.The warm winter gave way to an early and warm spring throughout Southwest Germany. Budbreak was very early, so was flowering and growth of the berries to pea size. From March through June, temperatures were higher and the precipitation was lower than the 10-year median. Flowering occurred under perfect, very warm if not too hot day and warm night temperatures and the onset of fruit was excellent, indicating the potential for a full crop. By the end of June the sum of accumulated heat degrees indicated we might have a record warm year, even on the 100 year scale. At the same time the vineyards in almost all of Germany were dealing with drought stress. The long awaited rain came in July, the temperatures remained very warm. August turned to be a cool and wet month. The first half of September, too, stayed cool and wet. The temperatures warmed up in the second half of the month, humidity levels remained high. The grapes caught up nicely from both drought stress in June and cold weather in August and, at the end of September, were thin-skinned and building up good sugar levels. While this was good news, there was bad news by means of a new pest and the lingering, high humidity in combination with very warm weather.
The new pest, „drosophila suzukii“, an invasive fruit fly accidentally imported with fruit from Asia, had made its way from the Mediterranean to the German wine regions where it caused some problems in 2013 and massive problems in vineyards with red grapes in 2014. The “suzukii” has a saw-tooth stinger which enables the insect to penetrate healthy skins, laying eggs at a high rate, with greater reproduction numbers than the „regular“, indigenous, fruit fly which needs soft, rotting fruit to lay eggs. Courtesy of the mild winter and the warm autumn weather, fruit flies from both species were plentiful. The „suzukii“ (the German name for it translates into „cherry-vinegar fly“ because of the insect’s preference for red fruit from cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries to deep red grapes) lead many producers to pick their red grapes very early ( some in late August ) in order to save the crop. At the same time, high humidity and warm temperatures spurred the onset of botrytis which later became a serious problem where heavy rains had damaged grapes and where soils weren’t well drained. Rain showers of varying intensity (even hail in Franconia and on the Ahr) diminished the outlook in some regions at the end of September. High temperatures, fruit flies and the rapid spreading of botrytis caused a very early begin of the 2014 harvest throughout Germany. The results turned out very heterogeneous.
The total German harvest is estimated at 9.242,000 hectoliters (1 hl equals 100 liters). 2013 yielded 8.432,000 hectoliters and the average of 2004-2013 lies at 9,165.000 hectoliters. The two largest regions, Pfalz (2.225,000 hl) and Rheinhessen (2.550,00 hl) had large, stable crops in ’14, almost identical with 2013 and with the 10 year median. The Mosel came to 895,000.00 hl, up significantly over ’13 and 8% above the 10 year median. This was due to a large crop of the ancient “Elbling” grapes in the southern part of the Mosel with abundant yields while the traditional, steep Riesling vineyards of the middle and the lower Mosel produced significantly lower yields and an overall much smaller crop.
While farming practices and foliage work made a difference everywhere, the local and regional microclimate weighed in more pronouncedly in 2014 because of significantly different intensity and quantity of rainfall (even hail, see before) in the 2nd half of September and in October.
Harvest started under fine conditions with a warm, dry period from 20th September until the 6th of October. Much of the crop of the premium varietals (Pinot family, Riesling) in the South was brought in during that time. The majority of the northern regions (Nahe, Mosel, Rheingau, Mittelrhein and Ahr) started harvesting those varietals in the 1st week of October. From 6th October, warm day and night temperatures and frequent rain showers produced thin-skinned berries and a perfect environment for fruit flies. This was accelerated by the rapid spreading of spores from botrytis cinerea and other fungi. In a race against the clock, every available hand and (in flat or sloping vineyards) every available mechanical harvester, were mobilized to bring in the crop, leading to what has been dubbed a „turbo harvest“ in Germany.
What to expect from 2014:
It is difficult to make a statement about the 2014 red wines though it is safe to say that Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder fared much better than the other red varietals, courtesy of the Pinot Noir’s relative hardiness. Earlier ripening varietals, notably Dornfelder, were more severely affected by „suzukii“. For whites it is safe to say the early ripening grapes (Mueller-Thurgau et al) brought very good yields and good quality. The premium grapes which followed later were more affected by the unstable weather and, as the harvest went on, were affected by botrytis, not all of it noble, necessitating meticulous sorting. Where this was done right, the yields shrunk significantly though it was rewarded by excellent ripeness, concentration and very good acidity levels. Overall, the Pinots Blancs and Pinots Gris look very promising. The Rieslings are crisp, delicious, with bright, aromatic fruit and harmonious acidity. Expect very fine wines in both dry and fruity style!
The larger portion of the 2014 German crop which was picked early, brought good yields and qualifies largely as „Qualitaetswein“ while the much smaller portion, harvested later at lower yields, qualifies for making „Praedikat“ wines up to Auslese. Eiswein has not been made to date. Bottomline, 2014 produced a normal size crop of very good, in parts even excellent quality. The making of 2014 caused extra hard and extra long work, making it a very expensive harvest.
The German wine market is solid, domestic demand as well as sales abroad are both strong. Riesling is still the most popular, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are experiencing steadily growing popularity. The red wave has crested, rosés are making a small comeback from a small base, white wines are gaining, too. With the 2014 wines the tight supply situation for German wines should ease though a good portion of ’14 is needed to fill back-orders and holes the very small 2013 and 2012 harvests had torn.
The business mood amongst wine producers and trade is very good and in the premium and super premium segments, German wines continue to win new customers around the world. The auctions of Germany’s best wines from top producers in a series of auctions the third weekend of September drew even more international buyers than before and bidding was brisk, hinting an upwards trend for 2015.
- Special thanks to Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster for this report.