Climate change and viticulture: A stress test for the 2017 vintage
· Climate change is becoming much more noticeable, with extreme weather occurring more frequently from year to year and posing a growing challenge for winegrowing
· Warm temperatures in March, late frost in April, drought in July, heavy rainfall in August and finally in the fall of 2017 the earliest harvest in history
· The wines have a high degree of minerality and are of extremely promising quality. The harvest size, however, is once again smaller than in the previous years
Trier, 14th December 2017 – After an unusually mild March, a cold spell in late April and early May came as a surprise. The sudden late frost caused considerable damage to the vines: nearly half of the young shoots froze in some of the best and most renowned vineyards of the Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier. “Already at the beginning of the season, we had to assume there would be serious harvest shortfalls, which was not a nice way to start the year,” emphasizes Dr. Karsten Weyand, Estate Director of Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier. The cold spell was followed by a dry phase lasting for several weeks. Rain finally came in July, but it was accompanied by a host of unwelcome side effects including hail, heavy downpours, storms and bad weather. August was characterized by warm, wet weather, resulting in a remarkably early start of the harvest in mid-September.
The green light was given on 15 September, starting with Pinot Noir Précoce, whose yield was small but adequate. The Pinot Noir and Saint Laurent grapes were harvested from 16 to 21 September. “By selectively harvesting by hand, we were able to take in very high-quality grapes. But after thorough examination, we agreed that the level of ripeness and the color of the red wine grapes did not meet our standards for maturing into first-class red wines,” explains Johannes Becker, enologist and cellar master. Instead, the decision was made to keep the musts of these varieties for rosé, which can attain top quality without requiring such full-bodied grapes. A third harvest phase, from 21 to 30 September, was used to take in the Pinot Blanc grapes, which were very good in terms of both quality and yield.
Climate change strategy
After a turbulent year seeing all weather extremes ? from frost to drought to sweltering humidity and torrential rains ? the worst was expected for the harvest of the climate-sensitive Riesling starting in the final 10 days of September. But a lot of rain can also be beneficial, explains Stephan Bigus, Vineyard Manager of the Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier: “Terroir and minerality will be expressed very clearly in the 2017 vintage, because this climate allows the vines to draw up minerals particularly well through their roots.”
The sub-regions of the Mosel region were affected by 2017’s erratic weather to varying degrees: in the Middle Mosel and the Saar valley, yields were only slightly below average and the quality of the must is very good. Along the Ruwer, harvest losses were significantly larger. “We know that we will have to be more prepared for extreme weather in the future. For several years now, we have been developing strategies to sustainably adapt our methods for cultivating and producing Riesling and Pinot to climate change,” says Dr. Karsten Weyand.
High quality despite low yield
As expected, the Riesling harvest yielded smaller amounts than in the previous years, but as the harvest progressed, the quality of the grapes increased due to the consistently good weather. “From dry estate Riesling to the distinctive village and single-vineyard wines made from grapes grown in our best sites along the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer rivers, right through to outstanding sweet Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines, the 2017 vintage really has it all,” affirms Alexander Jelen, Director of Sales and Marketing.
After more than six weeks of fermentation, the developing wines are fruity and clear with lots of finesse and elegance. The high extract values of the 2017 vintage give much structure and length. Most of the wines will undergo spontaneous fermentation, which usually continues into the new year. The 2017 vintage has a lot of potential and will keep for a long time. The last vintage with such a high proportion of Spätlese and Auslese wines was 2011. This year’s Beerenauslese wines are made from grapes from the Ayler Kupp, Kaseler Nies’chen and Scharzhofberg sites. The Trockenbeerenauslese wines are made from grapes from the Ayler Kupp, Dhroner Hofberger and Scharzhofberg sites.