Austria's 2012 Vintage: Lower Quantity, High Quality

With all of the figures in, the total volume of Austria's 2012 wine vintage is 2,154,800 hectoliters, which is well below the long term average. This is due mainly to last May's late frost – an unusual event that brought heavy losses, especially in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria). But because overall weather conditions during the year were quite favourable, the quality of the wine is very high, and this for all regions and grape varieties. The beautiful dry weather at the end of the vegetation period and during the main harvest season ensured the gathering of perfect, healthy and ripe grapes, both white and red.

Dramatic Prelude

A calm, warm beginning of Spring led to an early bud break. But then a very rare natural phenomenon took place during the night hours of May 17th -18th:  a frost made its way down from the north and over the wine regions in Niederösterreich; heavy damages occurred in the Pulkautal (Weinviertel) as well as in parts of the Kamptal and Kremstal regions. Ultimately, this lead to significant harvest losses. Spring continued, however, with very quiet and sunny conditions, and the first peak temperatures - up to 38 degrees C - were reached during the last week of June.
In July, there was a cool period lasting for around ten days, and it contributed in part to a surprisingly high amount of rainfall. This phase was extremely positive because, as the weather soon turned for the better and then climaxed with a very hot and dry August, there was ample water storage in the soil for the thirsty vines. The dry conditions continued until the end of the main harvest in mid-October. This was replaced by a sudden onslaught of cold temperatures that lasted until the end of the month, but at that point, most of the harvest already had been completed.

Beautiful Ripeness, Fine Fruitiness for White and Sweet

The parameters for the white wines are similar to those of the previous year, although the ample water supply in July and noticeably cooler night temperatures in September resulted in more compact and structured white wines. The high alcohol content is comparable to the previous years, while the acidity is a bit higher - although once again showing lower limit numbers. This proves to be beneficial for the lighter white wines, such as some Grüner Veltliners in Niederösterreich and Styrian Welschrieslings as well as the aromatic varieties like Gelber Muskateller, which is distinguished by a fine, delicate play of fruitiness and clear contours.

For all weight classes based on alcohol content, Grüner Veltliner is already showing very good to excellent results. As of late Winter, some Rieslings are a bit reserved and closed, but a positive development is still expected because of the good vintage conditions.

Thanks to the unproblematic weather overall, there were nearly no outbreaks of oidium or peronospera; this was true also for botrytis. The young wines are already showing their varietal characteristics and, especially for the typical Austrian white wine styles, the coveted fruit spectrum.

In the Steiermark, the important grape varieties Morillon and Sauvignon Blanc were harvested with sugar that was both high in content and high in quality. However, the quantity of the grapes was not as plentiful.  Thanks to the high ripeness levels of the grapes, however, their fruity character was preserved for the most part. This is true also for the white wines from the Leithagebirge and Vienna's vineyard slopes.
 
In the sweet wine strongholds of Burgenland and parts of Niederösterreich, the Prädikatswein-level wines were harvested in sufficient amounts; the first notable cold snap around December 8th at last allowed for the making of ice wine once again.

The Red Wave Rolls On

The basic necessary conditions that have been mentioned so far - like healthy grapes with high ripeness and the allowance of enough time for the careful choosing of optimal grape-picking dates - applied also to the red wine centers in Burgenland and Niederösterreich. For the third time in four years, specifically 2012, 2011 and 2009, the yields in all red wine areas and of all red varieties were of outstanding quality. The excellent conditions for 2012 served also as a perfect starting point for creating deep fruity and piquant Rosé and Schilcher wines.

Mainly the red wines are perhaps a bit lower in alcohol, but they are more compact and vigorous than those from the great 2011 vintage. Generally, the young red wines are very deep in colour and are tightly woven - the ripe tannins and pleasant acidity fit so well into the overall structure. There is also no question about the ageability of the 2012 premium reds. But whether the 2009s, the 2011s or the 2012s will have the edge on wine lovers palates in some years, only the future will tell.

„The total volume for Austria's 2012 wine harvest is significantly lower than the long-term average, but it is much better than had been anticipated," said Willi Klinger, managing director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. “However, the decline has particularly affected our flagship Grüner Veltliner, whose quantities in the Veltliner strongholds of Niederösterreich are rather scarce. But we are very happy the harvest provided fully ripened grapes that resulted in strong but very well-balanced wines and an outstanding red wine vintage!”

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