One thing is for sure, the 2011 harvest will be one to remember. With the wine regions of the world all experiencing completely atypical weather patterns from high heat to no heat, too much rain to no rain, what can we expect from the 2011 vintage? This blog features some early harvest reports from the major wine regions of the world.
UNITED STATES – If one wine region was most affected by the unusual and severe weather of 2011, it is definitely the United States. States like Oregon, Washington and California experienced late frosts, a non-existent spring, lots and lots of rain and a very short summer. Texas on the other hand experienced record high temperatures from May through October, along with a severe drought and devastating wildfires. The East Coast experienced severe heat waves along with nasty hurricanes. From state to state, the wines produced from the 2011 harvest will all express the kind of weather the particular state experienced.
The biggest wine region of the United States, the state of California, may very well have been most adversely affected by the severe and unusual weather of 2011. Shortly after bud break, a late frost affected the regions of Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and the Sierra Foothills. One winemaker in Paso Robles estimates some vineyards will only produce 15-20% of their average crop. However, some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay crops have been reported at normal yields with excellent quality. Other varieties did not fair as well in terms of yields, and some reports have yields at 20%-40% below average. Nevertheless, like the harvests in Europe and the Southern Hemisphere, winemakers are predicting excellent quality with lower alcohols, balance acidity and full, structured flavors.
CLICK HERE to watch a video of Scott discussing the 2011 harvest.
FRANCE – In what was predicted to be an early harvest, regions of France began harvesting grapes in the middle of August. From flowering to harvesting, the temperatures throughout this region were unpredictable and inconsistent. High heat during the day, cold spells in the evenings and rain from out of nowhere were all factors in the early harvest.
With respect to quantity, harvest yield is down anywhere from 20%-30% (on average) in some regions, primarily in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Some predict that 2011 will be a winemaker’s vintage, meaning that the winemakers in France will have more involvement and responsibility for the final product. There is talk of necessary chaptalization (the addition of sugar, not legal in the United States) to raise the potential alcohol levels, since the natural sugar levels of the grapes at harvest may not be sufficient.
SPAIN – High temperatures and scarce rainfall throughout Spain and Portugal have led to an early harvest. Some regions, including Rioja, are experiencing low yields by as much as 30%. Other regions, primarily those growing white wine grapes, are experiencing yields to match or exceed that of the 2010 harvest.
Although quantity is down in some regions, winemakers are finding the grapes to be of excellent quality. Yields are lower and bunches are smaller. This has lead to high concentration, high alcohol and lower acidity levels. Growers and winemakers have to very selective with the grapes they will use.
GERMANY – Although an early flowering of the grapes showed great promise for the 2011 harvest in Germany, a late frost devastated the expected yields. Sporadic hail also contributed to some of the damage, and thus required an early harvest.
Throughout the region, yields are down as much as 50%. Even with the devastating weather, winemakers in Germany are optimistic and expect the surviving grapes to make wonderful wines for the 2011 vintage.
ITALY – Like the regions of France and Spain, harvest in Italy was much earlier than usual. Severe heat and drought in the month of August caused plant stress which greatly lowered the 2011 yields throughout Italy. In some regions, yields are expected to be as much as 10%-25% lower than the past few years.
Like much of the European harvest, although yields are down, quality is expected to be excellent. Winemakers believe that the 2011 vintage will holds great promise, acknowledging the naturally rich extraction and good structure from the grapes. One winemaker has compared 2011, at least in terms of climate, to that of the excellent year of 2001.
AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND – Unlike the regions of Europe, who experienced an unusually early harvest due to high heat and unpredictable weather patterns, “down under” in Australia, challenges included flooding, humidity and cooler temperatures, resulting in longer hang times and a slightly later harvest. Although temperatures were warmer in New Zealand, with harvest slightly earlier than past years, humidity in both countries meant constant struggle against mildew and botrytis.
Diligent vineyard maintenance was required, more than in the past, including consistent canopy thinning and spraying of the vines to prevent against rot. Like the European harvest, yields from Australia are expected to be lower, but quality is expected to be high. In New Zealand, yields looked on average, but to avoid a “bumper crop” similar to that of 2008, vines were thinned to keep quantities and quality reasonable. One winemaker from Australia believes that the 2011 wines of Australia will be subtle, with great aromatics and elegant structures. While another in New Zealand believes the wines will be “clean and intense, with lower alcohols, resulting in firm structures and pleasant rusticity.”
ARGENTINA/CHILE – Severe frost, cooler temperatures and late rains caused growers and winemakers in the countries of Argentina and Chile to fear a total loss of the 2011 grapes. However, in March and April the weather began to cooperate, and the vines resumed their normal course of action, although a long, slow harvest ensued early into May.
The cool weather and large amounts of rain meant that growers and winemakers had to be very selective in the grapes used for wine making. Some regions experienced upwards of a 20-25% decrease in yields. However, like the regions of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, reduced quantity has lead winemakers to believe that the wines from the 2011 harvest in Argentina and Chile will be lower in alcohol, higher in acidity, thus creating more balanced and elegant wines.
In closing, I’m sure the 2011 season kept many winemakers and growers awake at night, wondering what could possibly happen next. In some countries it was high heats that lead to an early harvest and in others it was cold, wet rains that have prolonged the usual harvest. Overall however, the general consensus of the winemakers feel that the wines made from the 2011 harvest will be one for the history books, but only time will tell.