Mild weather thwarts German icewine harvest

German wineries have failed to produce any icewine/Eiswein from the 2019 vintage after mild weather meant that no frozen grapes could be harvested anywhere in the country.

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.

While Germany has experienced a number of poor icewine years in the past decade, producers in some wine regions were still able to harvest frozen grapes.

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 also described the 2014 vintage as “an absolute rarity” and stated that only eight wineries made icewine from the previous vintage (2013).

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.”

This is in contrast to good years for icewine in 2012 and 2015, when larger volumes of grapes could be harvested due to temperatures plummeting to below -10°C.

“Due to the mild winter in 2019, the minimum temperature of -7°C required for an icewine harvest was not reached in any German wine region. And the coming days are also no longer expected to have frosty nights,” Büscher said.

“In the 2017 vintage, to our knowledge only seven producers could harvest ice wine nationwide, three in Württemberg, three in Saale-Unstrut and one – on 1 March 2018 – in Baden. Before that, the winter of 2014/2015 was so mild that icewine from the 2014 vintage is also an absolute rarity. And from the 2013 vintage we only know five producers from Rhineland-Palatinate who successfully produced small amounts of ice wine and three from Saale-Unstrut.”

The DWI also noted that icewine harvest dates are getting later, while grapes are ripening earlier. Grapes for icewine are now increasingly harvested in January and February, increasing the length of time they have to remain on the vine in a healthy state.

In addition to the health of the grape crop, the DWI also stated that the size of the vintage is a factor in whether growers take the risk in leaving their grapes for icewine. When overall yields are low, wineries may be less willing to produce it.

Due to the low yields for icewine – approximately 500 litres per hectare compared to a maximum of 10,500 litres per hectare for Qualitätswein – the category accounts for only 0.1% of Germany’s total grape harvest.

Top markets include Japan, China, Scandinavia and the US.

Meanwhile in Canada, another centre for icewine production, temperatures plummeted to -8°C in late November in British Columbia leading to a relatively early harvest. According to Wines of BC, 20 wineries were registered to harvest icewine for the 2019 vintage, with approximately 463 tonnes of grapes expected over 124 acres in the Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley and the Shuswap region.

However, local media has reported that production in Niagara, Ontario is down by 40% this year due to warmer weather. 

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