2004 Vintage Surpassed Expectations

February 2005

The very good quality and quantity of the 2004 German wine harvest came as a surprise, considering that the past summer was fairly mediocre. Yet, for grapes, the weather was excellent – always warm enough, with a welcome shower now and then just when needed…..but never too much, and not least, a truly “golden October” full of sunshine just at the final stage of ripening.

“One could literally taste the increasing sweetness of the grapes from day to day,” said Armin Göring, managing director of the German Wine Institute in Mainz/Germany, as he described the the course of ripening. “Our expectations with regard to the quality of the 2004 vintage have been more than fulfilled. It is on a par with the excellent vintages of the past three years and an ideal complement to the exceptional 2003 vintage.”

Thanks to the overall healthy state of the grapes, wine-growers could take their time in determining the ideal time to harvest, despite occasional autumn rain and storms. At the same time, the variation between warm daytime and cool nighttime temperatures fostered the development of the grapes’ aromas, a phenomenon that helps lend German wines their unique, fresh fruity character. In several top sites in the Rhine, Mosel and Main river valleys, grapes were left on the vine until well into November in order to ripen sufficiently to yield top-quality and lusciously sweet dessert wines – particularly Riesling wines.

Market Conformity Expected in Terms of Yield

Wine-growers are not only pleased with the quality of this year’s crop, but also with the overall yield. According to Armin Göring: “Cellar stocks are relatively low after last year’s small crop. As such, this year’s yield of slightly more than the ten-year average of 10 million hectoliters is quite welcome and will help ensure market conformity. The prognosis for relatively stable prices is good news for wine lovers.”

Young Wines Have a Pronounced Fruity Character

The first wines of the new vintage are showing well – sleek, racy wines full of fruit and fresh acidity. At this stage, they resemble the wines of the 2002 vintage. Red wines also benefited from the long ripening period. They are deep in color, compact and rich in substance. Norbert Weber, president of the German Wine-growers’ Association in Bonn, is certain that the wines of the 2004 vintage will make for many a positive surprise in the coming years.

Eiswein – Crowning Touch of the Vintage

Given the healthy state and sufficent size of the 2004 crop, and the demand for this specialty, many more wine-growers were willing to undergo the risk of leaving several rows or portions of their vineyards unharvested, hoping for an early frost. The lower the temperature is, the more concentrated the sugar in the grape juice. In the night of 10/11 December, a high pressure system cooled temperatures down to minus 7°C (19.4°F) – the minumum necessary to freeze the water content of grapes. This, and a second Eiswein harvest shortly before Christmas, added a crowning touch to what was already a surprisingly good vintage.

Here is an overview of results in the individual wine-growing regions.


Thanks to cool temperatures and a tranquil Indian summer, Ahr Valley growers were able to delay the harvest of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) – the region’s most important grape variety – until the third week in October. Must weights ranged from 85 to 95 degrees Oechsle (Spätlese and Auslese ripeness) and the average yield was 85 hl/ha. Based on the grapes’ physiological ripeness and finely structured acidity, the wines promise to be full-bodied, rich in fruit, and long-lived.


The general harvest in Baden began in early October and lasted well over a month, thus enabling growers to achieve optimal ripeness levels. Harvest data indicate an average yield of 90 hl/ha and excellent must weights. Baden’s 2004 wines are a fresh, fruity alternative to the quite powerful wines of vintage 2003.


Franconian growers sum up the 2004 vintage as being satisfactory in size, and of high quality – particularly with regard to the late-ripening varieties, such as Silvaner, the Burgunder (Pinot) family, and Riesling. The average yield was 80 hl/ha. Growers view the new vintage as “normal”; the timing of the harvest relatively late; and the harmonious, fine-fruity wines an ideal complement to the extraordinary 2003 vintage.

Hessische Bergstrasse
The grape harvest in this very small region was completed in late November. The average must weight was 85 degrees Oechsle; the average yield ca. 85 hl/ha. For the first time ever, red wine grapes were harvested on ca. 18 percent of the region’s overall vineyard area. The white wines show a fine diversity of aromas as well as a pronounced fruity, elegant acidity.

The favorable weather in late summer and autumn enabled growers to harvest a crop of above-average quality and size. Interesting fruit aromas were able to develop during the long ripening period. This, together with high must weights and good acid values, bode well for distinctive wines with great aging potential.


Vintage 2004 on the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer offers lively (often, with a slight effervescence), fruity, agreeable wines that promise to be long-lasting. They are rich in ripe aromas and mineral tones. Thanks to their lively acidity, the lusciously sweet Riesling wines of this vintage are considered to be particularly successful.


Growers did not have it easy here: the growing season was marked by frost damage, dryness, heavy storms and hail. Nevertheless, Riesling and Burgunder (Pinot) grapes developed high must weights and yielded wines of good quality, with typical aromas and an acidity structure that will give them a long life.


For many estates, the main harvest began in early October. Quality-orientred estates that controlled yields are quite satisfied with the outcome of vintage 2004. The wines have a fresh acidity, lots of fruit, and good substance. The red wines are deep in color. The wealth of aromas of the Rieslings harvested with ca. 95 degrees Oechsle (high-end Spätlese) and Spätburgunders (Pinot Noir) with 100 degrees and more (Auslese) are particuarly appealing.


The general harvest in the Rheingau began in the second week of October with relatively high yields. Where growers practiced measures to reduce yields, higher must weights were achieved for both white and red varieites, and the aroma and color of red wines were much more intensive. The relatively dry weather in November enabled growers to harvest grapes of Beeren- and Trockenbeerenauslese ripeness.


Germany’s largest wine-growing region experienced a late harvest without stress. Dornfelder was harvested until late October; Riesling as late as November. Fresh, fruity white wines with pronouonced aromas are typical of 2004. Good color and density are the hallmarks of this vintage’s red wines – not least because the grapes remained extremely healthy until they were harvested.


Growers in these two river valleys harvested an average volume of healthy grapes. The young wines are piquant and straightforward – with a pronounced, typical varietal character.


The must weights in this region well exceeded expectations. Here, as in many regions, the 2004 vintage wines are at once interesting and complementary to the previous vintage.


Growers here are happy that the quality and quantity of the 2004 vintage are above average compared with long-term records. The white wines are fruity, sleek, and marked by a refreshing acidity. The reds profited from the long ripening period. They are deep in color, powerful, and rich in substance.