Recap of Austrian vintage: “fully ripened & bountiful”

This year’s harvest – the earliest ever recorded – will exceed the previous year’s volume, with the most recent data from Statistik Austria estimating about 3.2 million hectolitres.

Growers are certainly pleased with the fine quality of the grapes, which could for the most part be harvested this year without much concern over potential diseases.

This factor also made for a clear conscience in granting a nationwide increase in the maximum yield per hectare by the permissible twenty per cent, so that estates could at least partially offset their crop losses from the 2017 vintage.

More modest harvests were recorded locally on occasion, where there was extreme drought – like in Niederösterreich – or excessive precipitation like in Südsteiermark.

2018: the weather

After a very warm January, cold conditions in February and March led to a later-than-usual budding of the vines, so that in contrast to the previous two years, no damage was suffered from late frosts. The second-warmest springtime since 1767 then enabled the vegetation cycle to catch up with the calendar.

One of the earliest blossomings ever recorded was done with by the end of May in most winegrowing regions; this advance in vegetation persisted, even during the hot summer. While the warm June still brought moderate rainfall, a hot July was characterised by torrid intervals and severe drought – the Weinviertel in particular suffered from this. Irrigation – where possible – and other viticultural techniques were urgently brought into play to protect young and shallow-rooted vineyards from extremes of stress.

The month of August found the harvest already underway; an influx of cold air at the end of the month finally made for cooler grape material, although thunderstorms and heavy rain provided unpleasant side effects and sometimes interrupted the picking. A mild, sunny and mostly dry September brought about the conclusion of the harvest, which was finished almost everywhere at the beginning of October.

Thus, winegrowers could not spend the frequently warmer-than-average October days out of doors, but rather found themselves in the cellars tending to the vinification of this good vintage.

Niederösterreich (Lower Austria)

A quantitative increase of about fifteen per cent makes for happy faces, although this additional volume could be gained in part only through hard work on account of the drought and heat. Effective foliage canopy management was necessary, so that the days of tropical temperatures did not cause too much damage. Drought in the northern and western Weinviertel also meant additional work in terms of irrigation, while measures to relieve stress upon the vines had to be implemented in recently planted parcels. The rains in late August and early September led to brief interruptions in the harvest, although low temperatures and good health enabled the clusters to make it through the bad weather relatively well.

Thanks to skilful vinification, the wines bear little sign of the occasional drought stress suffered by the vines, and the harvest was mostly done at the beginning of October. However, some grapes were still hanging on the vine until the end of the month, in order to achieve optimum aromatic maturity by taking advantage of the temperature swings between day and night.

This year’s wines are characterised by a pleasant ease on the palate and beautiful varietal typicity. Their full-bodied character is supported by appropriate alcohol content and accompanied by moderate acidity.

Burgenland

From one perspective, growers are very satisfied with the above-average harvest volume of about plus-ten per cent, and from another with the excellent quality of the grapes. Although the negative weather conditions of the last two years were not repeated for the most part, in some cases great aridity and Zweigelt-wilt made for worry lines on grower’s faces and extra work in vineyards and cellar.

The exceptionally early harvest meant that the first finished Qualitätswein had already been submitted to the Federal Tasting Authority for approval on 2 August (!). The early start to the harvest had the advantage in northern Burgenland that the September rainfall only affected a small proportion of the grapes. At the end of the month, growers were mostly done with the harvest, even if there were still some grapes in the vineyards, especially around Lake Neusiedl – this year they are expecting Eiswein and some Strohwein, too.

In Mittelburgenland as well, the small-berried and loose Blaufränkisch clusters were perfectly mature and healthy thanks to appropriate vineyard work. If the previous vintage was described as a ‘picturebook vintage’, then one can see the current year in a similar light.

All said and done, it’s a fabulous vintage with fruit-forward, varietally typical wines featuring concentrated, elegant body! Those characteristics that make the white wines enjoyable already hold true as well for the young reds: ripened and balanced acidity supports the fruit, while the moderate alcohol content means pleasant drinking.

 

Steiermark (Styria)

The weather gods did no favours this year for the Styrians. Rainfall around the time of blossoming made work in the vineyards and plant protection impossible on occasion. This was a very hard nut to crack especially for growers working organically, and unfortunately not always met with success. Thus, in some cases substantial crop shortfalls resulted. Likewise, the rain in early September combined with the high daytime temperatures led to significant instances of rot, which made stringent selection necessary in the vineyard. Sometimes the harvest volume per day was only 100 kilograms per picker!

But the results proved worth the effort: the 2018 vintage expresses itself as beautifully ripe and varietally typical. Despite the advanced ripeness, alcohol content remains in the average range, which promises easy drinking. The Schilcher of Weststeiermark is fruity and finely spicy this year, exhibiting plenty of character. Reports of about ten per cent more wine than usual in the Steiermark this year add up to even more good news.

 

Wien (Vienna)

Weatherwise there were no adverse conditions to report in Vienna for 2018. Fortunately, vineyards in the capital city were spared this year by any possible bad weather: neither hail nor drought nor rot, etc., posed any difficulty for the winegrowers.

The weather was similar to that of the other winegrowing regions, with rain falling as August turned to September. The beginning of the harvest was also pushed forward significantly in Vienna, where estates were done picking in early October.

Folks are very satisfied now with this fine and varietally typical vintage, its pleasant drinkability and moderate acidity. The Junger Wiener is already providing a good and substantial foretaste of the wines maturing in satisfyingly full cellars.

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