Vintage 2015 has Winegrowers Smiling

As the 2015 harvest drew to a close, winegrowers were already singing unusually effusive words of praise. A survey by the German Wine Institute (DWI) found that all German growing regions are reporting top quality yields. Thanks to healthy, fully ripened and highly aromatic berries, wine fans can look forward to fruit-forward, balanced white wines and intense, concentrated reds. The vintage has also produced an unusually high number of top quality noble sweet specialties, from Auslese to Trockenbeerenauslese.

Recent estimates call for harvests of roughly nine million hectoliters across Germany, on line with the ten-year average and just two percent behind last year’s totals. The extreme dry summer conditions resulted in significant yield fluctuation depending on vine age and water retention properties of the soil. A closer look at the 13 different wine growing regions shows some difference in the harvest results, as highlighted in the following reports.


2015 Vintage — A Region-by-Region Report:


Ahr: Uncomplicated year, grand wines

Some years seem to just go easy on the winegrowers. In the Ahr Valley, the growing season generally progressed smoothly. August and September saw some rainfall, but the grapes were generally not affected. Early ripening varietals such as Müller-Thurgau and Frühburgunder were harvested in early September while the main harvest kicked off in mid-September. Late-ripening varieties such as Spätburgunder benefited from the beautiful autumn weather. The winemakers are reporting quality young wines ranging from good to very good: balanced, fruit-forward wines, and rich coloration for the reds. Harvest yields totaled 42,000 hl, just short of the previous year’s tally. Small berries from the dry summer resulted in somewhat lower must volumes.


Baden: Picture-perfect autumn, yet lower volumes

As would be expected in the winegrowing region with the greatest north/south extension, significantly different climates were experienced. Yet the summer’s eight weeks of heat and dryness was a constant throughout both the region as well as the vintage; many days topped 40 ° Celsius (104 ° F). Many have compared it to the fabled 2003 vintage, itself marked by a major heat wave. Yet there were also other events, such as a major storm with hail damage in the Kaiserstuhl and Tuniberg on 13 May. From the start, the vintage paced ahead of the average values; the growing period measured 10 days ahead of the established norm. Flowering began in late May and was finished by 10 June. Although the older vines handled the drought well — here too location and soil mattered — they tended to produce smaller-than-normal berries and thus less must. Harvest volumes in Baden totaled 1.16 million hl, over 10% below the previous year’s results and a significant drop over the historical average (-6%). The main harvest stretched between September 14 and the first week of October, with excellent weather dictating an orderly but unhurried harvest. The highly healthy and outstandingly ripe fruit will produce good, fruit-forward and structured white wines and dark, powerful reds. Acid values fell within the range that consumers prefer.


Franken: Dry year, with high share of prädikat-classification wines

Climate change is posing new challenges for the winemakers in Franken as well. The year was the driest in the past 40. Decisions will have to be made going forward on how best to irrigate the steep hillside vineyards in dry years so they can produce the level of outstanding quality experienced in this vintage. The Pinot varieties as well as Riesling and Silvaner proved especially adept at handling the weather conditions this year. Minimal rain fell between February and August. Older vines were able to access sufficient water thanks to their very deep roots. Younger vines however required two or three bouts of watering. On the plus side, neither hail nor severe storms were an issue. In mid-August copious rains covered the state, much to the relief of all growing things. Conditions cooled off soon thereafter, helping the grapes remain healthy up through harvest. Franken’s winegrowers harvested roughly 440,000 hectoliters of grape must. And average must weights measured 89 degrees Oechsle. Almost three-fourths of the harvest could be used for prädikat-classification wines, a significantly higher share than in 2014. On account of the dryness, harvest volumes were two percent below the well-established historical average and six percent below the year prior. The outstanding quality of this vintage helps compensate for this, however. Wines are predicted to show elegance, sophistication and good cellarability, together with intense and varietally true aromas, and a fine mineral acidity.


Hessische Bergstraße: Concentrated aromas and high must weights

Harvest volumes for Hessiche Bergstraße’s vintage this year totaled 30,000 hl, or two percent above the long-established average. Yet one of the largest operations in the winegrowing region reported a 10 percent drop over normal for their harvest. With that said, the quality of the perfectly ripened grapes is truly extraordinary. Average must weights measured up to 91 degrees Oechsle, besting not only the notable 2009, 2003 and 1976 vintages, but even the legendary 1959 one as well. Given the early onset of flowering, the winegrowers initially feared that the dry summer would have a negative impact on quality. Yet, advantageous precipitation levels in August and September helped balance things out. The early-ripening varieties showed good must weights, and later ones even more so. The absolute top values were recorded on 12 October, when a Weißburgunder Trockenbeerenauslese measured 198 degrees Oechsle. The winegrowers are expecting highly aromatic, full-bodied and complex white wines, and intense, well-structured reds. With a bit of luck, this may prove a good year for Eiswein as well.


Mittelrhein: Extremely dry, good maturity

With the exception of some severe weather in May, almost no precipitation fell on the Mittelrhein throughout the entire growing period — one of the driest years in living memory! While the older vines with deep roots could access a sufficient supply of water, young vines required irrigation to avoid drying out. While the extreme lack of rain eliminated any real threat of disease, it also led to smaller than normal berries. That said, the grapes were fabulously ripe, with a very good fruit set following an optimal flowering. The harvest itself progressed unproblematically, with overall harvest volumes of 35,000 hl, 19 percent above the historical average and 22 percent higher than a year ago. This may allow prices to drop somewhat. The Mittelrhein can expect consumer-friendly and balanced wines with well integrated acidity and moderate alcohol levels.


Mosel: Unfounded fears – fantastic vintage

September was an anxious time for the winegrowers along the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer rivers. Would things finish up wet again as they did a year ago, forcing a rushed harvest in the middle of the grape ripening? This year’s golden October put those fears to rest. Cool nights and an east wind to dry the grapes following rain kept the fruit strong and healthy. Some of the early-ripening varieties were harvested by mid-September. The main harvest opened with Müller-Thurgau in the last ten days of September, followed by the Pinot varieties and Elbling. The first two weeks of October saw the Riesling harvest to ideal autumn weather, running into early November on the steep sites. All in all: a smooth harvest, with random sampling looking highly promising. Must weights for the Rieslings averaged 85 degrees on the Oechsle scale, well into the spätlese spectrum. Many estates have left grapes hanging on the vines in the hope of capping off an already excellent vintage with an Eiswein. The one piece of bad news: harvest volumes were down from a year ago in many of the sub-regions. Overall 795,000 hectoliters were gathered, three percent below the historical average and eight percent under the results from a year ago. The 2015 vintage will produce fruit-forward, balanced white wines, with a lovely interplay of sweetness and acidity.   Red wines, which comprise ten percent of production, will show rich coloration. Wine fans and visitors to the Mosel region can look forward to high-quality wines across all classification levels.


Nahe: Rapid development

At approx. 340,000 hl, harvest volumes in the Nahe region were roughly equal to those from a year ago, and slightly above the historical average. The issue concerning the winegrowers was the very hot and dry weather. It accelerated the ripening process for the grapes, meaning that the early-ripening varieties in particular ran the risk of having overly low acid levels. An early harvest was initiated to bring in Riesling grapes with good ripeness and solid acidity values. Must weights ranged from good to above-average. For Riesling, values of 90 and above were not uncommon, while values of 115 degrees Oechsle were achieved among Spätburgunder. Fruity and elegant white wines as well as intense, powerful reds will mark the wines of the Nahe in 2015. “Wine lovers will find that even simple wines are of outstanding quality in this vintage,” the region’s representatives reported.


Pfalz: Great heat, grand wines

By the time the vines began bud break in April, things were already unusually dry in the Pfalz. The month saw 46 percent less rain than the historical average, and May saw 60 percent less. Things remained dry throughout the summer, and July and August were extremely hot. Yet the rains and a cooler spell in late August helped prevent unchecked dryness stress and excessively high must weights. The grapes hung ripe and healthy on the vines, allowing for an early but unhurried harvest. All in all, the conditions were outstanding, giving rise to high hopes. The red varieties handled the dry heat particularly well, converting it into opulence and complexity. The sweet wines tend toward the luscious, while the Pinot varieties are showing an excellent acidity balance and smooth, elegant flavors. The optimal weather conditions allowed the aromatic varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Scheurebe and Sauvignon Blanc to reach their full potential. Harvest volumes in the Pfalz totaled 2.2 million hectoliters, or roughly one percent below the historical average. Vineyards with sandy soils tended to produce somewhat less than other soils where the vines could send their roots deeper to access water reserves.


Rheingau: Very dry, high quality levels

Rheingau’s winegrowers had to endure some frightful frosty nights in April, but these ended up not causing damage. The enduring dryness of summer, however, did take its toll. With 205,000 hectoliters expected, harvest volumes were roughly eight percent below the historical average. Older vines with deep-reaching roots handled the lack of rain well, but younger vines suffered drought-related damage in some cases. Significant rainfall began in mid-September, leading to strong berry growth and the hairline tears in the berry skin that are the ideal conditions for noble rot (botrytis). This year’s harvest, with highly healthy fruit on the whole, is thus also likely to feature a trove of premium, naturally sweet wines. The dry and semi-sweet wines from this vintage also reached a high quality level. Riesling harvests often don’t begin until early October, and this year was no different, with winegrowers reporting outstanding must weights. Based on the very good health of the grapes, many producers also set the stage to harvest Eiswein. Rheingau’s 2015 vintage will impress through its racy, well balanced acidity, and the aromatic fruit character beloved by Rheingau-fans around the world.


Rheinhessen: Picture-perfect vintage, but nuances abound

Germany’s largest winegrowing region experienced a wide range of conditions up to the harvest. The dryness of summer was experienced unevenly across the region. Vineyards with heavy, water-retaining soils had fewer problems with the lack of rain. The harvest started somewhat earlier in the southern section of the region; the yields were also typically higher than in the northern sections. Outstandingly well-ripened grapes with high must weights were seen throughout. September proved itself an almost perfect harvest month: the days were pleasantly warm with cooler nights that kept the grapes healthy and developed intense aromas. In the middle of the month stronger rains arrived, with up to 30 liters per square meter, but the cool north wind dried the grapes again quickly and helped limit rot. Very high must weights were achieved in some places, meaning that some noble sweet wines will be produced. Harvest volumes for the 2015 vintage are slightly below the historical average; the latest estimates are calling for 2.5 million hl. Due to optimal fruit ripeness, the red wines can be expected to show deep coloration and concentration while the white wines will show a traditional style with restrained acidity levels. Wine lovers can look forward to classic, ripe Rheinhessen wines with a wide range of aromatics.


Saale-Unstrut: High quality in the cool north

With a summer heat that topped out at a “mere” 30 ° Celsius (86 ° F), winegrowers in Saale-Unstrut enjoyed conditions that their colleagues in Germany’s southwestern regions could only dream about. Indeed, temperatures in Germany’s northernmost winegrowing region were largely spared any real extremes. If anything, they had to sit concerned through several cold nights, from late April to mid-May. The “Sheep’s Chill,” a period of cold weather that frequently occurs in late June, also made an appearance this year. The overall dryness observed this summer threatened the vines in some sites. Even several bouts of severe weather and hail in June in the Freyburg region did little to change this. The situation eased when the first real rains arrived in September. The main harvest kicked off in late September, progressing smoothly and delivering healthy and wonderfully ripe grapes. Strong rains, nighttime frosts and even a bit of snow nipped at the heels of the harvesters on October 11-12, forcing them to pick up the pace and bring the majority of the grapes in by mid-October. A spell of sunshine at month’s end added a grace note to the process, and cleared the path for grapes with high Oechsle measurements. Harvest volumes totaled a welcome 55,000 hl (2014: 43,000 hl), with a strong share of wines for prädikat classification. The first young wines are presenting strong fruit notes and a balanced, playful acidity.


Sachsen: Good yields despite the hail

While 2014 will be remembered in the Sachsen winegrowing region as one of weather extremes, 2015 posed many challenges of its own. These included severe weather, with heavy rain and hail in early September around Meißen and Weinböhla. Winegrowers were left to deal with damaged berries and an immediate emergency harvest initiated for the early ripening varieties. Before that, younger vines had been showing signs of drought stress, with the same extremely dry spring seen in other regions followed by a hot summer. The mercury reached 38.6°C (101.5 °F) on 7 August, the highest reading of the year. The grapes nevertheless developed wonderfully and very healthily on the whole. One down note was an unusually early appearance of frost in mid-October, which damaged the foliage in many vineyards and ended the harvest early. With all that said, 2015 is expected to be an excellent vintage from Germany’s easternmost winegrowing region, with a high share of prädikat-classification wines. The harvest volumes are also respectable, with an anticipated 24,000 hl — well above the previous year’s results.


Württemberg: Ideal conditions, outstanding results

After an unusually early flowering, Württemberg enjoyed agreeable weather throughout the vegetative period, allowing the grapes to ripen to full health. The tremendous dryness — with half of the normal precipitation — was a major topic of discussion. Young vines and vines on light soils required irrigation, but on the whole the musts that were produced show tremendous quality potential. Varieties that prefer warm weather in particular thrived in the ample heat of summer, producing high must weights. The Schwarzriesling for example was ten degrees higher on the Oechsler scale compared with the decade-long average. Full-bodied fruit can be expected for all varieties. The 1.2 million hectoliters harvested stand 11 percent above the historical average and a full 16 percent above harvest volumes from a year ago. The harvest launched in mid-September, quite early, and ended in many cases by mid-October. The workers could gather fully ripe, very healthy fruit. Even for Trollinger, must weights measured up to 90 degrees on the Oechsle scale, well into the spätlese range. As such, the red wines are the vintage’s real winners, although Riesling also achieved the good degree of ripeness needed for outstanding wine quality.


Wine must harvest in Germany’s winegrowing regions – DWV estimate from 11/6/2015