Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Regional reports by:
Silvia Fiorentini, Chianti Classico, Italy
Francisco Mateus, Wines of Alentejo, Portugal
Minas Tamiolakis and George Skouras, Greek Wine Producers
Carlotta Ribolini, Colangelo & Partners, for Prosecco DOC
Enric Bartra Sebastian, Department of Agriculture, Catalonia
European Harvest 2021
We have been hearing repeated reports of weather related problems associated with the 2021 vintage in France.
Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne experienced poor climatic conditions with the 2021 vintage because in March 2021 there were very warm days that started the vines budding early, and then in April there was frost that killed all the early buds and, eventually, caused very low yields. Additionally, during harvest, the weather was cool and rainy and all that humidity resulted in fungal diseases (powdery mildew or leaf blight) that affected the vines. Such low production volume has not been seen since 1977. If you are drinking wines from those regions, you will find scarcity of product and much higher prices when the 2021 wines are released, during the next couple years. So the best thing to do is purchase now 2019 and 2020 French bottles to stock up your cellar.
The facts above don’t mean there are fewer good wines coming to market from Europe in 2022, as France – even though it produces highly celebrated wines – is only one of the outstanding producers from that continent. Therefore, you might consider buying wines from other parts of Europe, which is what I advise you do.
We have been receiving reports of good harvests from the other European countries, even though most experienced lower must yields, including Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece as well as some northern areas such as the German Rhine region.
We’ll start with Italian wines.
Tuscany’s Chianti Classico region, the home of some of the best Sangiovese-based bottles, reports that the weather in the vintage year 2020-21 has been extremely regular. Rains in spring enabled good foliage development, and provided abundant water supplies for the drier summer months. The only phenomenon registered in springtime was a slight alteration in bud development times, owing to lower than average temperatures for a few days after Easter, which slowed down the progress of vegetation in the cooler areas of Chianti Classico. The health of the plants was not threatened by fungal diseases (powdery mildew). The summer was dry with only sporadic rain in August, but the reserves of water accumulated during the spring prevented the vines from suffering from the drought. Summer temperatures were generally within the norm without excessive heat-waves. From late August, the temperatures remained high during the day but dropped considerably during the night. This significant temperature variation resulted, almost everywhere, in full maturation of the fruit. In September it rained but only sporadically. Harvesting periods were expected to be similar to those in recent years, and in fact the harvest of Sangiovese grapes started around September 20th, according to repots from the growing areas. Currently, we do expect to have a reduction of production of around 15%.
Report from the Bolgheri region.
In 2021, the growth of the vineyards was delayed by a considerably cool spring, which slowed the budbreak, before a summer that proved to be hot and very dry. The lack of rainfall right up to the harvest is reminiscent of classic vintages such as 2015 and 2016; both involved a long spell of drought and slightly lower production volume. The unique, local soil composition with high percentages of limestone and clay, enabled the roots of the vines to dig into the deepest strata in search of water, withstanding the extended drought.
Report from Piemonte.
The wine-growing region of Piemonte entered the crucial harvest period several days later than a year ago – according to many of the growers the 2021 harvest promises to be full of surprises. Here too, the cold spring temperatures will play a part as well as the scarcity of rainfall and the summer’s heat wave. On the qualitative front, some areas are in excellent condition, with similar volumes to 2020 for Barbera d’Asti, Barolo and Barbaresco; the production is very much in line with market demands.
Report from the Prosecco DOC consortium.
In the Prosecco DOC area, the first varieties to be harvested from late August to early September were the early ripening ones such as Chardonnay and Pinot - including Pinot Noir essential to the production of Prosecco DOC Rosé - while the harvest of Glera grapes only began in mid-September.
The harvest began about 10-12 days later than last year because of the below-average temperatures in March and April (including a spring frost), which delayed bud bursts. Following the frosts, late spring and summer were particularly favorable from a climactic point of view, with the absence of prolonged drought phases. Summer heat alternated with rainfall, thus providing the vineyards with an excellent water supply, allowing for good vegetative development.
In terms of production quantity, the vintage will not be particularly abundant, with lower yields per hectare than the maximum established by the production disciplinary rules.
From a quality viewpoint, it is still too early to give an opinion. The current meteorological and microclimatic weather conditions, in particular the thermal range between day (28°) and night (15°), allow us to be optimistic and to expect interesting results.
Report from Alentejo, the largest Portuguese DOC.
In Alentejo, starting 20th July, workers begin picking grapes for the 2021 harvest. First the grapes for sparkling and white wines, beginning from south to north and from east to west. Two weeks later the harvest started for the red grapes. It was the beginning of another harvest in Alentejo’s 23,500 hectares (58,070 acres) of vines.
The 2021 harvest looks pretty good, with healthy grapes and vibrant levels of acidity. Ripening benefited from hot days and cool nights, with thermal amplitudes of 15-20 degrees Celsius. Rainfall at the end of September caused some damage and some rot in the grapes harvested later in northeast areas of Alentejo. Overall, the region is expected to increase production by 5-10% and produce around 120 million liters of wine.
Report from the Greek islands.
Winemaker George Skouras says 2021 has been a tough year, starting with spring frosts in addition to extreme summer heat.
As persistent wildfires forced evacuations, extreme heat damaged the 2021 grape harvest. On the Greek island of Santorini, famous for Assyrtiko white wines, growers reported no rain since April, with record breaking heat. The last such heat wave was in 1987. With ambient temperatures reaching 43 to 45 ⁰C (approximately 110 to 112 ⁰F), yields were considerably down, by almost half, compared to a normal year. The extreme heat blocked normal development and even “burned” some grapes.
The main grape varieties growing in Crete are mostly native; fresh and aromatic whites Romeiko, Vilana, Vidiano, and Thrapsathiri and reds Kotsifali, Mandilari and Plito. There are also a few international varieties planted in vineyards, especially in the area around the City of Chania; they are used as blending partners to round out the rough edges of the indigenous reds and they are usually Syrah and Merlot. Harvest run from mid-August until early October. This year’s heat wave has damaged a number of the vines; that means less must, therefore less wine. According to producer reports quantities are as low as 60% of previous harvests. Also, wines from some of the varieties most sensitive to heat are exhibiting a “raisiny” or “sherryized” taste.
Report from Catalonia, Spain.
According to the current data, the 2021 grape harvest is similar in size to the average harvest in Catalonia and of very good quality.
Many viticulturists feel relieved after losing one third of the harvest due to downy mildew in 2020.
2021 has been a very dry year in many areas like Penedes and Empordŕ, and the initial fears were that the harvest would be reduced because of the drought; but vineyards managed to end up with an almost normal crop, in part due to the water reserves in the soil caused by the 2020 higher than usual rain.
The wineries of Taragona also report an almost normal harvest though even there was as little rain there as in the rest of Catalonia, the soil reserves and the early September rains were enough for the vines to yeald a normal, healthy crop.
In terms of main varieties, some Macabeos yielded less than usual because of major sensitivity or rain timing. Xarel·lo was near the normal yield and Parellada and Garnatxa which have a longer cycle yielded slightly more and benefited from some September rains. Total harvest averaged some 400,000 tons.
Report from Germany.
Finally, on August 23rd, the first grapes of the early-ripening Solaris variety were harvested in the Rheinhessen. Grapes like Riesling, which dominates the Mosel and Rheingau regions, generally mature a little slower, so the main harvest of these varieties started later on in September. For richer, fruitier styles of Riesling winemakers waited to harvest until even later, typically October and November, and benefited from some September rains. Total harvest averaged some 400,000 tons.
But, overall, 2021 has been a challenging year for German wine producers.
First, a cool and humid spring led to comparatively late budding resulting in frost damage during a later, very cold week. Another challenge was presented by the abundant rainfall, which was certainly welcome for replenishing the water reserves, yet was problematic for keeping the vines healthy. The exceptionally humid weather created mildew in some vines that resulted in loss of yields.
The oak fuder now contain wines with a nice herbal nose, exhibiting beautiful spices, stone fruits like apricots and peach together with citrus and an attractive balance of sugar and acidity. Wine drinkers can look forward to fresh, fruity wines from the 2021 vintage with peak aromas.
It’s been reported that North American wine purchasers are leaving German wines on the shelf due to much higher prices imposed by the D. Trump administration. Tariffs of 25% have made the product much more expensive, causing major concern to exporting winemakers.
To your health!
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