After several vintages marked by extreme conditions and abrupt climatic changes, winegrowers in most parts of the world were grateful that 2004 was a return to the traditional and familiar. Quantities in many regions were abundant. in the coming years, consumers can expect quality wines at competitive prices.
It’s been a return to normal, a classic year. French growers have breathed a sigh of relief that this vintage did not mirror the excesses of 2003.
In Burgundy, “it was crazy,” says Michel Laroche in Chablis. “We were harvesting one month later this year than in 2003.” As to quality, “the reds from the Côte de Nuits will be astonishing,” says Frédéric Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin, “while the whites from Chassagne-Montrachet are excellent.”
In Bordeaux, the huge quantity of fruit caused problems. Some vineyards were never harvested because there was no room in the cellars. Producers who severely cut the quantities in August have made reds with deep color, tannins, acidity and structure. Overall, the Merlot has been the success, with great wines out of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. Cabernets were caught in the weather change in early October.
The Rhône’s harvest was smaller than usual. The successes have been with the whites in the north (Condrieu and Hermitage Blanc) and with concentrated reds in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Champagne and Alsace both had a great harvest. For Champagne, “it was one of those rare years when abundance and ripe grapes came together for an exceptional harvest,” says Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon of Champagne Roederer. In Alsace, the harvest brought out the aromatic characters of its grapes, especially Gewüztraminer, Sylvaner and Pinot Gris.
For the Loire, the year has been more mixed. In the Muscadet region, rain nearly ruined the harvest. Chenin Blanc in Vouvray and Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre have fared better, and 2004 is an average to good year. Few sweet wines will be produced. —Roger Voss
If 2002 was too wet and 2003 too hot, it’s fair to say that 2004 was just right. Favorable temperatures and good equilibrium between rain and sun marked a return to normalcy and reminded nostalgic vintners of times past.
Despite good quality, the killjoy was quantity. Italy produced 20 percent more fruit than last year. “Many more bottles will enter the market, and it’s not certain it can absorb them,” Gambero Rosso wine pundit Daniele Cernilli warned the wine community.
“We saw absolutely perfect maturation of skins,” says an excited Alessandro Ceretto in Piedmont. Lombardy’s Franciacorta and pockets of the Veneto experienced violent rains and hail mid-September. Some vineyards lost 30 percent of their fruit. Overall, a delayed harvest (one to two weeks later on average) was especially good for late-ripeners like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.
“Just like old times,” says Giuseppe Mazzocolin of Tuscany’s Fattoria di Felsina in Chianti Classico. “Moisture in the soil was restored after last year’s heat wave.” In Brunello, the harvest lasted until mid-October, the first time that has happened in 10 years.
The south and Sicily fared well with one exception: Puglia saw devastating outbreaks of downy mildew during an abnormally wet spring. “We were luckier in Calabria,” says Cantine Lento enologist Antonio Zaffina. “Good daytime heat, cooler nights. We are happy with the results. ”
It was a year for Portugal’s red wines. In the north, the Touriga Nacional is fragrant and elegant. In Bairrada, rot hit the Baga. Rain was a problem in the south, especially for whites. In Alentejo, the most successful were later ripening red varieties, such as Aragonez, Syrah and Periquita. Port wines are good in color, power and structure. It is too early to predict a vintage. —R.V.
The wines are very aromatic, and are more elegant than powerful. The acidity is racy and refreshing. The red wines show good varietal character and fruit. 2004 was also an ideal year for sweet wines;
it may turn out to be a classic year. —R.V.
German growers are delighted with the harvest. Quality was excellent, and quantities were needed to replenish the cellars. Warm days and cool nights led to aromatic fruit. Given the quantities, growers were willing to leave fruit on the vines in the hope of making eiswein. —R.V.
With the record-setting heat of 2003 viewable only in the rearview mirror, winemakers in Spain welcomed a cooler, more traditional vintage in 2004. Throughout the country, the spring was short to nonexistent. April and May, when things normally begin to warm up across Iberia, days were cool and rainy, putting crops behind schedule. However, the summer and early fall months, when grapes grow to maturity, were textbook solid.
Two-zone vintner Alejandro Fernández is calling his harvest in La Mancha (he is even better known for his Ribera del Duero wines) the best of his life. And overall, conditions throughout Spain seemed right for the top producers to make classic wines, according to Stephen Metzler, a Seattle-based importer of fine Spanish wines.
In Rioja, Jorge Muga of Bodegas Muga was a little less enthusiastic about 2004. He noted that the spring and early summer were so moist and cool that there were fears of “sanitary” problems, meaning rot and mildew. But September and October were picture perfect, resulting in a harvest he describes as “muy buena,” or very good.
After a normal winter, it was the hottest March ever. “Reminded me of July,” said Bob Cabral, at Williams Selyem. Budbreak was early, but April through July were so chilly that on August 4th, Shafer’s winemaker, Elias Fernandez, told me, “I’d like to see it warm up!” The cool spring also caused the shatter that resulted in a very light crop.
Harvest began the first week of August, the earliest ever. On Labor Day, the heat finally struck. Across California, a week of temperatures well over 100 degrees sent everything ripening at once. Growers ran out of fermentation space and water to rehydrate their vines. A friend who owns a Paso Robles vineyard told me the crush rush was so bad, growers were competing for pickers, and had to make “painful decisions” over what got picked and what didn’t. A second heat wave, commencing on September 14, only made things worse, sending sugar levels soaring and resulting in some overripe grapes, especially reds.
On October 18, the biggest October storm ever slammed California, ending the growing season. But by then, just about everything had been picked. “The earliest harvest I’ve seen in my 40 years,” remarked Dick Arrowood. “Short, fast, furious and exciting!” said Kathy Joseph, at Fiddlehead. Yields were down as much as 40 percent compared to normal, although as Napa Wine Co. winemaker Robert Lawson drily noted, “I’m not sure what average or normal really is anymore.”
For the time being, the jury’s out in all regions across California. Early ripeners, like Sauvignon Blanc, intended for sparkling wines and some Chardonnay, which were harvested before the September heat, should be fine. Others, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel, could be good and even great at wineries that managed to overcome the vagaries of crush rush and could be selective about lots. But at this point, expect some unbalanced wines from this uneven vintage.
A Halloween freeze in 2003 weakened vines; a quick but killing freeze in January obliterated them in parts of Washington. Walla Walla was hardest hit, with losses of up to 80 percent of the crop. Elsewhere, a very hot summer led to the earliest-ever start of harvest. Then came the rains, delaying the picking of most varieties, and physiologically ripening the reds.
The meteorological flip-flop turned the earliest vintage into one of the latest for the reds. Winemakers applauded: “The wines are ripe, structured and dense,” notes Betz Family’s Bob Betz. It’s looking like an excellent year for Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet; whites were subject to rot and will be variable.
A wet spring, poor set, vine disease, significant bird damage and mildew dramatically reduced yields across the state. “Schizophrenic” is how winemaker Joe Dobbes describes the vintage. Blistering July heat in the Willamette Valley was followed by two inches of rain in late August/ early September. Patience was rewarded, and a brief sunny window ripened the fruit. “Pinots show deep color, bright raspberry/mulberry fruit, and very long complex, fruity palates,” notes Argyle’s Rollin Soles. —Paul Gregutt
In the Finger Lakes, vintners report a small crop but one that matured well despite generally cool conditions. Riesling (no surprise here) looks to be strongest. Long Island wineries fared even better quality-wise, with Channing Daughters’ winemaker Christopher Tracy calling the whites “stellar.” Paumanok owner Charles Massoud says he has wines of “Grand Vintage material.” —Joe Czerwinski
The 2004 crush was the largest on record. Production was 1.76 million tons nationwide, up about 25 percent from 2003. Early buzz has 2004 falling in line with the “even years are excellent” adage that some pin to Australia; we’d just caution that sometimes high yields can mean less concentration, as evidenced by some samples of 2004 South Australian whites. Record crush benefits the shortage of white wines across much of the country; red wine prices may go down due to oversupply. — Daryna Tobey
A record harvest capped off a generally beneficent growing season. Vineyard area has expanded rapidly in recent years, so the record yields were not unexpected, but signal a return to normal after the depressed, frost-ravaged yields of 2003. Cool summer temperatures benefited Gisborne Chardonnay, while spring frosts cut yields in the important Pinot Noir-producing region of Central Otago. Hawkes Bay and Marlborough wines should be plentiful and
In 2004 Chile experienced one of those long, warm, rainless growing seasons, the type of year that results in big crops, ripe fruit and lower acids. In the words of Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Concha y Toro, it was an “extended” summer in which warm temperatures arrived a month earlier than normal and hung around through harvest in March and April. The bottom line: Expect colorful, full-bodied wines, not as hot and heavy as Europe’s 2003s, but potentially bulky and a bit short on structure. —M.S.
Irrigation and cool nights came to the rescue in Argentina in 2004, as elevated daytime temperatures and low humidity throughout February and March conspired to send grapes toward dehydration. But with ample water from Andean snowmelt, crops were nursed to health and winemakers are generally positive about the ’04 vintage. “The warmer temperatures allowed for the development of rich black-fruit flavors and aromas in the Malbec, while the cold nights helped maintain lively acidity and freshness,” noted Alejandro Sejanovich, vineyard director for Bodega Catena Zapata. —M.S.
Low rainfall marked winter 2003. An unusually cool spring and summer brought a challenging, long harvest and the biggest crop on record. Berry set was healthy but uneven, demanding rigorous sorting. All major areas produced intensely flavored, ageworthy Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. Shiraz was the star of red varieties, though other Rhône varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were also concentrated and well structured.
For maps and more information on on the 2004 Harvest report, see the February issue of Wine Enthusiast.