The weather conditions throughout 2010 demanded the utmost in know-how and skill from Austrian winemakers. After a Winter that swung between cold and practically Spring-like temperatures in February, the month of March began with icy temperatures and ended with pleasant Spring weather. April was dry in western and southern Austria, but the wine-growing areas experienced heavy rains, hailstorms and floods. There was much rain at times in May, so sunshine was rare indeed. And June provided a bumpy start to Summer, with rain and cold during the flowering period causing problems with pollination and fruit set. Flowering was approximately two weeks later than in the previous year – though it still was considered a “normal” flowering period. While there was relatively dry weather until the end of July, the rain that showed up in August pretty much marked the rest of the vegetation period. This resulted in a higher infection rate, which meant a great deal of work was necessary in order to preserve grape quality. Fortunately, hail did not play such a major role as it had done in recent years. The cool and damp weather in September led to the conclusion that it wasn't necessary to wait for a higher gradation of the grapes; picking the healthiest grapes was the focus. Still, the wet weather at the end of October further complicated the harvest.
In August, a 2.2 million-hectoliter harvest – 14% below the annual average – was expected. But this has since been revised to a much lower amount. According to Josef Pleil, president of the Austrian Association of Vintners, the harvest will likely total 1,7 million hl – the lowest amount since 1997. There were particularly high losses in Niederösterreich, or Lower Austria, where the Weinviertel wine-growing area delivered a nearly 25 percent drop in quantity. Notably low amounts are expected also in the Wagram, Kamptal and Wachau areas.
Like in other wine-growing areas, the relatively good weather that began in August turned to wetness. The town of Eisenstadt had the most rain - 255 liters per square meter, the highest figure recorded in the last 65 years. Not surprisingly, the picking of healthy red grapes took priority over those with a higher gradation. In the Seewinkel (east of lake Neusiedl), the harvest was nearly completed in October; only the specialities remained on the vines. Also in Mittelburgenland during the same period, the Zweigelt harvest was finished for the most part, although Blaufränkisch was kept on the vines for as long as the health of the grapes allowed. The main harvest in Südburgenland, however, actually began in mid-October. Here, the grapes were healthier and the yields were higher, thanks to the favourable weather conditions; the amount of rainfall was lower than in other areas.
Based on the grapes that were picked in time, a very fruity and robust vintage expressing good varietal and regional character is predicted. Yet even this good outcome has a downside: a 40% lower-than-average quantity is expected.
In Steiermark (Styria), this year's quantity is somehow higher than last year's, although the level is once again below average because of the weather conditions. Flowering was comparatively good, with little occurrence of couloure, and this, combined with a relatively dry Summer that brought only minimal storm-damage raised hopes for good volume and quality. But then, the Steiermark was absolutely drenched with water. More than 400 mm of rain fell since August, initiating a quick harvest so that good grape health would not be lost and any onslaught of rot could be avoided. As a result, the 2010 harvest in many areas was finished by mid-October. According to viticulture director Werner Luttenberger, a total volume of 170, 000 hectoliters would be likely. With this amount, and based on per capita wine consumption in the Steiermark, cellars in the region would be empty within half of a year. But if the volume doesn't quite fulfill expectations – the quality of the vintage certainly will. The wines should be very fresh, have exceptional fruitiness and sufficient alcohol. According to Luttenberger, the acidity will be “crisper than in the previous years.”
Through meticulous work in the vineyards, this year's harvest quantity was a bit more plentiful than last year's, although the severe hail damage that occurred in 2009 contributed to the lower-than-average harvest as well. There were differences in grape quality and the potential for rot in various parts of the region. The differences between the amounts of rainfall on both sides of the Danube river reached up to 300 mm! Ultimately, the success of the harvest in Vienna was a case of which winery could best prove its skill in the vineyards. Besides light wines, there are full-bodied wines with good fruitiness and acidity backbone – wines ideal for laying down.
As a result of the bad weather during the flowering period, fruit set was difficult – and this ultimately resulted in a below-average harvest quantity. In mid-September, rainfall totaling one and a half times the average annual amount was recorded. This clearly meant that demands in the vineyards were very high: not only was it necessary to spray in time, but it was also important to carry out a second, precautionary spraying - even though this certainly could not prevent more rainfall! Those who risked avoiding a second spraying ultimately could not play the waiting game, and had no choice but to harvest immediately at the first sign of grape health decline.
While the amounts of rainfall were different in the various areas, there was one overall advantage: September's wetness and low temperatures did not support the rot. So, at the beginning of October, the first bottled young wines were already on the market while the harvest of the Grüner Veltliner grapes had yet to begin. The varying harvest times throughout the region meant that quite an interesting vintage in Niederösterreich could be anticipated.
From slender, fruity and acidity-accented wines to ripe and fully-balanced wines – everything is available from the 2010 vintage in Austria. The widely preferred early harvest time (due to the health of the grapes) has delivered wines with moderate alcohol, supporting smooth drinkability.
Fruity and fragrant white wines with a piquant acidity and, above all, brilliant fruit, can be enjoyed. For red wines, this vintage will be a fruity-spicy one.
Right from the start, the 2010 vintage proved to be a major challenge to the winemakers. The weather conditions demanded quick reactions in vineyard work, during the harvest, and finally for vinification. And yet again, Austrian winemakers have proven that they have mastered their trade!
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Press information, 5 November 2010
AWMB, Susanne Staggl