Austria’s Wine Harvest 2016 – reduced quantity, top quality!
December 21, 2016 - There is hardly any way that a wine harvest in Austria could have more variation to it than this year’s vintage. While in the Steiermark and Burgenland, harvest shortfalls from 50 to 80 per cent due to late frost at the end of April can be lamented, in large parts of Niederösterreich the yields were good, even above average. The combination of factors caused grape and bulk wine prices, especially Grüner Veltliner, to soar to unforeseen heights. This prompted the Ministry of Agriculture to raise the maximum yield per hectare by 20 per cent for the entire country, in order to bring a degree of stability to the market. The outstanding quality of the wines, characterised by particularly delicate fruit-driven aromatics and fresh acidity, is extremely gratifying.
Weather conditions in 2016: late frost, hailstorms, warm September
The 2016 vintage in Austria had a number of surprises in store: a mild winter with the second-warmest February in 250 years was followed by a dry month of March and an unsettled April. At the start of the month, Mittelburgenland reported summer-like temperatures of more than 27°C – but in the second half of April, between the 26th and the 29th there came three nights of extreme frost, and some snow even fell on the early-sprouting shoots – this had catastrophic consequences for vineyards and viticultural operations, above all in the Steiermark and in Burgenland.
Late spring and the summer months were characterised by sultry weather, with a great deal of rainfall and scattered periods of heat, so that both winegrowers working conventionally and those working organically were equally challenged in matters of vineyard management. But in contrast with 2015, the thermometer did not climb above 35°C this year.
In the end, an uncommonly warm, sunny and dry September provided the vintage year with a somewhat conciliatory conclusion: this enabled the clusters to achieve very good ripeness, while cooler nights toward the end of the month effected optimal aromatic development. A good further course of weather with occasional rainfall in autumn permitted a rather relaxed harvest without time constraints, ensuring development of grape material with pronounced ripeness and a good supply of nutrients. In the cellar, growers could thus concentrate on optimising and stimulating the quality that had been delivered, without being obliged to resort to any special oenologic tricks.
The 2016 vintage is already showing a varietally typical, fruity aromatic profile and good body, supported by a solid backbone of acidity. The moderate alcohol content of this year’s wines will also make for pleasant and enjoyable drinkability.
Niederösterreich (Lower Austria)
Overall, harvest estimates for 2016 come in at a satisfactory 1.6 million hectolitres, some 20 per cent higher than the previous year, even if the wine-growing regions Wachau, Carnuntum and Thermenregion had their harvests diminished by from 13 to 23 per cent, owing to the late frost in April. Persistent periods of rain during the summer constituted a special viticultural challenge, making the spread of Peronospora inevitable to a certain extent, despite intensive implementation of countermeasures.
This year’s harvest began some two weeks later than last year, but by and large proceeded without encountering any adverse weather conditions or time constraints. Volume deficits in other Austrian federal states led to great demand for grapes, along with correspondingly rising prices.
All in all, the 2016 vintage – apart from the frost – will remain a pleasant memory for winegrowers: very fine quality along with mostly trouble-free operations during the harvest and in the cellar – a nicely matured and aromatic vintage, which the cool nights also blessed with a lovely depth of fruit. Fresh Welschrieslings and peppery Veltliners will gladden the hearts and the palates of winelovers!
Frost damage, above all in Neusiedlersee’s sub-region Seewinkel, and the hailstorm at the end of June in the area of Gols and in Mittelburgenland led to harvest shortfalls amounting to 50 per cent of the normal volume. Contrasted with Niederösterreich, the start of the harvest took place even somewhat earlier than in the previous year, coming to its conclusion relatively early as well, and not only in the adversely affected areas.
The grape material that was harvested definitely brought good news: a satisfying level of maturity with lovely ripe acidity as well as low pH-values permitted a very clean vinification, even with the red wines’ microbiologically complex fermentation on the skins.
The result of this year’s efforts amounts to very fruit-forward and varietally typical wines with good body, though not over-opulent. This is true for the prime red varieties Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch as well as for the white wines. A lovely and well-balanced acidity supports the fruitiness, while moderate alcohol content provides for pleasant drinking.
The three nights of frost in April and a hailstorm in mid-August caused massive losses to the harvest, so severe that the yield this year barely reached 20 per cent of average vintage volume. In addition, the summer’s downpours presented a further challenge to crop protection in the Steiermark, particularly for estates working with organic viticulture.
Secondary growth on the damaged vines after the frost meant an initial delay of one and one half months in the vegetation process. But this could be made up over the course of ripening, so that the timing of the harvest was not essentially different from that of the previous year, and good quality grape material could be delivered to the fermenters.
This year, very lively and pleasurable wines are maturing in the cellars, with lovely body, not-too-high alcohol values and good fruit. The aromatics are additionally supported by a fine backbone of acidity, regardless of the variety: Welschriesling, Muskateller or Sauvignon Blanc. As far as Schilcher goes, given the extremely meagre volume, one is well advised to make early arrangements to secure their personal supply!
The wine-growing region Wien remained for the most part unharmed by this year’s meteorologic catastrophes. Thanks to the appropriate measures taken in the vineyards, winegrowers were able to cope with all weather conditions in the nation’s capital. According to forecasts, this paid off with yields just below average in quantity, with well-organised and easily planned harvesting. Splendid weather in September also provided for grapes with good ripeness as well as consistently satisfactory health. Like in the other wine-growing regions, cellar procedures in Vienna also proceeded without appreciable difficulties.
The success of these efforts has demonstrated itself already in the first presentation of young wines at the end of October. The ‘Junge Wiener’ show themselves very fruit-driven and easily drinkable, offering a foretaste of a ripe vintage with moderate acidity and heft. Not only the Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC – first available in March – excites eager anticipation, but the wines that will soon be ready to be tasted – both white and red – will certainly afford pleasure to lovers of wine.