Germany weighs up climate change impact

German producers have largely welcomed the impact of global warming as helping them to compete in the modern marketplace, despite evidence that rising temperatures have brought an increased risk of storm damage.

Rheingau vineyards on the banks of the Rhine at Rüdesheim

Rheingau vineyards on the banks of the Rhine at Rüdesheim

Speaking at a London event to mark the first official presentation outside Germany of VDP Rheingau wines from the 2013 vintage, Christian Witte, estate director at Schloss Johannisberg, offered his own view on the effect of changing weather patterns in recent years.

“The biggest impact we see right now is first of all a positive thing – there are now often ripe vintages,” he reported. By contrast, Witte recalled, “In the ‘60s we had ‘64 and ‘69 as good vintages but the rest of the ‘60s was bad or mediocre. We don’t see that right now and that makes it more safe to produce every year a good quality.”

However, Witte continued, “There is more evidence every year of heavy rain and hail. The warming itself we can handle very well in our daily vineyard work: if it is warmer then we can leave more leaves on the vines to protect the grapes and have our grapes at a higher elevation above the ground. But heavy rain and storms are something we have to live with.”

For Dieter Greiner, estate director at Kloster Eberbach, the trend towards warmer conditions has proved crucial for the German wine industry’s survival in an era when high quality alternatives are available from many parts of the world.

“With the global competition we face today, if we had vintages like we had in the 60s then we would be out of business,” he remarked.

As ripeness has become the rule rather than the exception, Jochen Becker-Köhn, estate director at Robert Weil, pointed to a shift in perspective as to what constitutes a great vintage.

“What we have learned with global warming is that some of the not so ripe vintages – ‘01, ‘02, ‘04, ‘08 – age very well, but warmer vintages like ’09 not so much,” he commented.

Following “mixed” weather during the current 2014 growing season, including a lot of rain during August, Rheingau producers remained cautious about offering predictions about the quality of this forthcoming vintage.

Offering his own overview at this stage, Dr Franz Michel, director of Domdechant Werner, observed: “The last three or four weeks in October will prove whether we have a really good vintage. So far Riesling has made good progress – it is 10 days earlier than average and the grapes are still healthy. I am optimistic but do not ask me what it will be like in four weeks time.”

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