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Austrian estates produce 2.3 million hectolitres from 2019 harvest

The 2019 grape harvest in Austria produced 2.3 million hectolitres of wine “despite heat and drought”, but unusually warm conditions meant that winemakers struggled to produce any of the country’s famous icewine.

Vineyards in Vienna (Photo: ÖWM / Robert Herbst)

The volume of sweet wines produced in Austria will be “quite limited” this year due to a warmer winter and fewer nocturnal frosts that could freeze grapes destined for icewine production, according to officials.

However, the 2019 harvest has instead yielded “vivaciously fresh” dry white wines and reds with “excellent depth” despite a summer drought. It said that 2.3 million hectolitres is “consistent with the long-term average” for Austria’s wine production.

In fact, the country’s leading grape variety, Grüner Veltliner, turned out “more varietally expressive than it has been for a long time”, according to the trade body Austrian Wine.

Officials said it is “too early to make accurate predictions about dessert wines,” but production levels will be lower than average.

“In the Seewinkel on the eastern shores of Lake Neusiedl one can expect very fine botrytis-affected wines. On the other side of the lake however, there will be hardly any Ruster Ausbruch due to massive bird damage perpetrated by swarms of gluttonous starlings.”

Ice wine is made from grapes that freeze on the vine over winter. The colder the temperature at the time of harvest makes for a sweeter the wine.

Officials said that, apart from a couple of nights, any substantial nocturnal frosts remained completely absent, and as a result, “frozen grapes for Eiswein could be only picked in isolated instances.”

“Overall, the volume of sweet wines will be quite limited.”

The warm winter was followed by an inconsistent spring. April was “very warm”, Austria experienced its coldest May since 1991, which brought a “great deal of rain and retarded the development of the vines.” The summer was hot and dry, while a ild autumn with cool nights “encouraged aromatic development”.

Winemakers in Germany have had similar problems. According to a statement from Wines of Germany, 2019 is the first vintage in many years where the country has failed to make any icewine.

Ernst Büscher of the German Wine Institute (DWI) said that in 2018, just seven producers had been able to produce the revered sweet wine.

He told the drinks business: “As far as we know, 2019 was the first vintage for 190 years without icewine production in Germany. The first icewine/Eiswein production that was recorded in Germany was on 11 February 1830 from the 1829 vintage in the vineyards of Bingen in Rheinhessen.”

Canada, Austria and Germany are the largest producers worldwide of ice wine.

While sweet wine production was modest, dry wines fared much better. Niederösterreich’s (Lower Austria’s) leading variety Grüner Veltliner turned out “more varietally expressive and multidimensional than it has been for a long time”. The trade body said, generally across the region, the 2019 harvest offers “especially vivid fruit flavours” thanks to a warmer summer which led to fuller ripening.

Rieslings, meanwhile, grown in Wachau, Kamptal, Kremstal and Vienna’s Nussberg are “extremely juicy and fruit-driven” this year.

“Almost the same can be said for the Burgenland appellations, where – for example, in Leithaberg – very well-structured and aromatically mature Weissburgunders (Pinot Blancs) and Chardonnays were vinified.”

Austrian Wines also said 2019 was a good year for growing red wine grapes, and its fifth good harvest in a row, which “until recently nobody would have thought possible.”

“The 2019 wines are thus far consistently deep in colour, extremely concentrated and rich in extract, although acidity and tannins also appear to check out at an impressive level.”

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