An early start for a good vintage

An early start for a good vintage

Harvest almost two weeks earlier than last year – started with sparkling wines

Harvesting the grapes that form the basis of sparkling wines began in Alto Adige in mid-August, with the classic grape harvest starting around a week later. This is ten to fourteen days earlier than last year: the early start to the harvest was mainly due to the warm May, while the vines and grapes have withstood the summer heat well. This is one of the reasons that experts expect a good vintage in terms of both quality and quantity – provided that the weather holds in the last days before and during the harvest.

Traditionally, the grapes used for making sparkling wines are the first to be harvested. “For us, the alcohol content is less important than the acidity, which is what ensures the freshness and fruitiness of our sparkling wines”, explains Josef Romen, President of the Association of Alto Adige Sparkling Wine Producers. As this acidity decreases faster with riper grapes and on warmer nights, this year the first grapes arrived in the cellars of the sparkling wine producers already mid-August. One challenge is that the higher temperatures mean that the harvest has to be completed faster than usual. In addition, harvesting is occurring in almost all locations simultaneously, as the altitude has not made any major difference to the degree of ripeness, says Romen.
The classic grape harvest started around a week later than that for sparkling wines, probably on 22 August – first with the Sauvignon in the valley locations, followed by the Pinot Grigio and the higher locations. “This year the harvest started ten to fourteen days earlier than last year, depending on the variety and location”, explains Hansjörg Hafner from the Alto Adige Advisory Council for Fruit and Wine Growing. This is less due to the hot summer than to a warmer-than-average May. “This meant rapid flowering, with the time of flowering in turn critical for the start of the harvest”, says Hafner.

Successful resistance to heat and drought

A second atypical aspect, besides the warm May, was that this July was – after 2015 – the second warmest in the history of winegrowing, while also being one of the driest. “The farmers reacted to the heat and drought with plenty of hard work and dedication”, explains Andreas Kofler, President of the Alto Adige Wine Consortium. As an example, careful pruning of the foliage protected the grapes from excessive sunlight.

Targeted irrigation also ensured sufficient moisture for the vines. “Drip irrigation is an extremely economical system and is also ecologically important, because the soil retains its vegetation and does not have to be turned”, says Hansjörg Hafner. Andreas Kofler adds: “The investments of the last few years and the hard work in the vineyards are paying off.” 

(Cautious) optimism as regards quality and yield

This year’s exceptional weather conditions have led the vines to produce more grapes than usual, but with berries that are smaller in size. The harvest is therefore likely to be average in terms of quantity. As regards quality, it is still hard to say: “It’s too early to make any definitive statement about the vintage because it is precisely the last days before the harvest, and the weather during the harvest, that are critical”, explains Kofler. “All the preconditions for a good year are there, but now we just have to wait and see.”

...and hope that no storms cause mayhem, that it is not persistently wet and that it continues to be noticeably cooler at night. “It is precisely the temperature differences between day and night that are crucial when it comes to the acidity and freshness of the wines”, says Kofler. Hafner adds: “The decisive phase starts now, with the last few weeks making all the difference.”

Heavy reds, structured whites

Even if no final judgement can yet be made, the prerequisites for a good 2022 vintage are all in place: “Now it’s a matter of deciding on the optimum harvest time, which is a challenge this year because the high temperatures mean that everything is happening at high speed”, says Josef Romen. Nevertheless, all is set for a good vintage in 2022: “The growing period presented no problems, nor were there any issues with plant protection”, says Romen.

The heat and the early start to the harvest have created good conditions, especially for red wines, says Andreas Kofler. “It may well be a good year for heavy reds.” And, if the weather also holds for the coming weeks, the 2022 white wines should also prove exciting. “They will probably be a little less fruity than in other years because of the high temperatures and the early start to the harvest”, believes Hansjörg Hafner. “But they might well be more structured, fuller and more voluminous.”
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