2002 HARVEST REPORT

Our annual look at the most recent harvests around the globe.



Our annual look at the most recent harvest takes you around the globe—from North America to Europe, then south to an entirely different hemisphere, where grapes were picked months ago and the first wines are already trickling into the marketplace. In many cases, our correspondents have been on the ground in the wine regions of the world, tasting grapes and interviewing winemakers. Here's our first look at the prospects for vintage 2001.

 

 

AT A GLANCE
Weather conditions at harvest sunny partly sunny rainy
Quantity harvested short crop average crop abundant crop
Quality of harvest good jury's out poor

 

NORTH AMERICA
[CALIFORNIA]

GOLDEN GRAPES FROM THE GOLDEN STATE
Picked early, high in quality and down a bit in quantity from last year's record harvest: That sums up vintage 2001 in California. Even as the first heavy winter rains fell in mid-November, growers were excited about their grapes, with many suggesting that 2001 will be the best year since 1999, and maybe even better than 1997. The year marks the third successful vintage in a row—and the fourth in the last five years, with 1998 recognized as a weak year.

After an extremely dry winter, April brought a severe frost that reduced yields. May was the warmest ever, and June nearly so, causing vintners to worry about a too-early harvest. But with July, cold and fog returned with a vengeance. Temperatures in Napa-Sonoma barely broke the 70s all month, in what the National Weather Service called "unusually cool" conditions. But the weather was a blessing, because it slowed down ripening. August saw the return of normal conditions, allowing for even ripening.

On August 17, the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association announced the beginning of harvest—one of the earliest ever. September and October provided ideal Indian summer conditions. A brief storm on September 24 brought rare thunder and lightning to the state, but barely over a third of an inch of rain fell, causing no damage. After that, there was no rain until October 30, and by then most of the grapes were in.

The total statewide crop is expected to be 3.1 million tons, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. That's down from last year's record harvest of 3.3 million tons. The slight shortfall comes as welcome news to vintners, who have been plagued with high inventories from last year.


Napa Valley
The harvest was "near perfect," says Saintsbury partner Richard Ward. He describes whites as "precociously aromatic and intense," reds as "concentrated in color, tannin and flavor." Cabernet Sauvignon in particular benefited from the hang time that the Indian summer provided. Clos du Val president Bernard Portet says 2001 was "the earliest harvest I have seen" in 30 years, and calls the Cabernets "very elegant and well balanced." Beringer's vineyard manager, Bob Steinhauer, compares 2001 to 1997, but with lower yields.

     


Sonoma County
Laurence Sterling, a partner in Iron Horse, calls 2001 "a Pinot Noir year, without a doubt," adding, "which also means Chardonnay." Overall yields were 10 percent below average, and due to the relatively cool conditions, acids will be "a touch higher than normal." Jeff McBride, winemaker at Dry Creek Vineyard, says Zinfandel and Cabernet grapes were smaller than normal, resulting in excellent colors and flavors.

     


Central Coast
Stubborn cold and fog lingered in the Salinas Valley for weeks in mid-September when it should have been sunny, causing vintners to worry that the rains would come before the grapes got ripe. But then it cleared up. Chris Glynn, a grower-relations rep for Gallo, calls 2001 "a good year for Chardonnay" and maybe "a great year" across the board in the northern part of Monterey County. Estancia winemaker Ken Shyvers says Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will be "exceptional." In the warmer Paso Robles area, Don
Ackerman, viticulturalist for Meridian Vineyards, says the quality of the vintage was so good, "winemakers are wearing out their thesauruses to come up with nice things to say" about this year's Zinfandels and other full-bodied reds.

     


Mendocino and Lake Counties
The lack of harvest rain, coupled with the warm-cool pattern of late summer, resulted in red wines that are very rich in color, flavor, body and alcohol, says Gregory Graziano, owner of Domaine Saint Gregory. Whites, he adds, "seem less impressive but still full of flavor." William Crawford, president of McDowell Valley Vineyards, calls 2001 "a perfect harvest, the first in 30 years with no rain."

     


South Central Coast
Meridian's Ackerman calls the vintage from the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys down through Santa Barbara County "very exciting." An early September heat spike accelerated sugar accumulation, but then the weather leveled off again, allowing even ripening. Harvest occurred two to three weeks earlier than in 1999 and 2000, but "beautiful, offshore [i.e., warm] conditions along the Santa Barbara Coast" bode well for Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from cool, western regions and ideal Syrahs and Merlots as you travel east. Christian Roguenant, winemaker at Orcutt Road Winery, predicts the vintage will be "good to great."

     


Lodi and Sacramento Valley
"Oh, what a winegrowing season we have had," crows Cal Dennison, senior winemaker for Guinness UDV wines, whose portfolio includes Beaulieu Vineyard, Glen Ellen, Blossom Hill and MJ Vallejo. The cool-hot-cool pattern of August and September allowed varieties to ripen evenly. "Without a doubt, the best year for Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever experienced," says Dennison. And as for Lodi's old-vine Zinfandels, "They're just spectacular."

     

—Steve Heimoff

[WASHINGTON]

FOUR IN A ROW
For Washington State vintners, it's now four consecutive good-to-excellent vintages. But things got off to a rough start in 2001, with a cool, wet and windy spring keeping cluster size way down and making fruit set uneven. This was followed by a very dry, hot summer—a drought year in fact—that kept berry size down. Though many vineyards reported lower-than-average yields, the final crush is a record for the state and an 8 percent increase over last year, a reflection of new vineyards coming on line.

The extreme summer temperatures ripened some cooler sites quite early, and harvest began on September 1. Then the hot weather backed off and picking extended well into November, making it one of the earliest and one of the latest harvests on record.

At Woodward Canyon, owner Rick Small finds "great forward fruit and rich flavors" in his wines, which have "beautiful physiological maturity." White wines in general will be soft for Washington, with forward, floral aromas, ripe tropical fruit and high alcohol. Hedges winemaker Steve Lessard describes his 2001 Fumé-Chardonnay as "a tropical fruit
basket."

Overall, the red wines are looking dark and tannic, especially those from grapes that were harvested earlier and underwent hot fermentations. Syrahs appear to be doing best, but it's really a winemaker's vintage, one that will require careful management of fermentations and barrels to keep tannins in check. Plan on drinking these wines early for maximum enjoyment.

—Paul Gregutt

     

[OREGON]

PROMISING, BUT POTENTIALLY UNEVEN
Like Washington, Oregon is enjoying a string of four good-to-excellent vintages. Here, 2001 began with warm spring weather and an early bud break. A generally mild but sunny summer put things back on track. Then trouble struck. As winemaker Ken Wright explains it, "in early August we had a heat spike that caused west-facing berries to desiccate from the late afternoon sun exposure." At many properties, severe thinning in the vineyard and exhaustive sorting in the winery were required.

For the first time since 1997, there will be substantial differences in quality from winery to winery, based on calls made in the vineyard. Shea Vineyard owner Dick Shea, who sells grapes to many wineries, adds that in addition to the August heat spike, growers were faced with the challenges of "very large grapes and clusters, and moderately high disease pressure." White wine grapes were less affected by these problems and delivered dense, concentrated wines with ripe tropical flavors.

As for the Pinots, it is too soon to tell. In some areas, heavy rains caused problems for wineries that waited too long to pick. But elsewhere, those who stuck it out were rewarded with additional days of sunny weather. Veronique Drouhin of Domaine Drouhin calls it a good vintage. "If Burgundians had seen the quality of the grapes we had in Oregon," she says, "some would start a winery here."

—Paul Gregutt

     

[THE NORTHEAST]

REACHING FOR SUPERLATIVES
A mild winter followed by a cool spring, then a long, dry summer with just enough rain before harvest, provided ideal growing conditions. "It's one of the finest vintages our area has ever seen," says Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Raphael on the North Fork of Long Island. "Our reds came in with levels of ripeness I haven't seen in 20 years. Our average cropping level was around two tons per acre with sugar at 24 brix, some as high as 25, with deep tannins, dense mouthfeel and very soft acidity. I don't think it can get much better."

In Central Pennsylvania, Richard Naylor of Naylor Wine Cellars in Stewartstown calls 2001 "mind boggling, probably the finest year we've ever had, with quality and quantity both high." And at Snow Farm Winery on Grand Isle off Lake Champlain in Vermont, owner Harrison Lebowitz was ecstatic. "We couldn't have had a better growing season," he enthused, "a long summer, one of the driest on record, with no early frost. The wines should be superb."

Around New York's Finger Lakes, John Martini, proprietor of Anthony Road Wine Company, called 2001 "high on quality, excellent flavors, okay on quantity." Further down Lake Seneca, Gene Pierce, owner-partner at Glenora Winery, said "the extended warm growing season yielded excellent-quality grapes, but Riesling was off as much as 25 percent, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir were down 10 to 15 percent."

—Mort Hochstein

     

EUROPE
[FRANCE]

CLASSIC, MAYBE GREAT, CERTAINLY GOOD
French winemakers cannot believe their luck. After a wet winter and spring, and totally unpredictable weather throughout the summer, the end of the season in late September and October brought a huge sense of relief, as the sun shone and daytime temperatures remained high. For those who looked after their vines through the year and who cut yields, it has been a very good year, sometimes better than 2000. As the headline writer in the local Bordeaux newspaper put it: "Thank you, God."


Bordeaux
When a Bordelais says a vintage is classic, it can mean one of two things: Either that he has a traditional view of wine styles and likes Bordeaux to have a firm tannic character when young, or that he really doesn't think it's a great year, but doesn't want to admit it.

With the 2001 vintage, the word "classic" is being used frequently and in both senses. Comparisons are being made to 1986, 1988 and 1998, all vintages where the tannins were tougher than in the great vintages of 1989 or 2000. But when pressed, winemakers will say that it is not a great year, but a very good second-division vintage. Jean-Luc Thunevin of Château de Valandraud in Saint-Emilion says, "It is not a great vintage, simply because, unlike 2000, some bad wines are being made this year. It's a year when low yields and great care have been necessary."

The common theme is how good 2001 has actually turned out to be. After such mixed weather throughout the year, surprise and delight grew, as a cool start to September turned into the best Indian summer since 1996. The settled weather meant that growers could leave the Cabernet Sauvignon to hang while the sugars slowly pushed up. Most growers in the Médoc did not harvest their Cabernets until the second week of October, a good two weeks later than last year. Even then the weather held out, and in parts of Bordeaux the Cabernet harvest was not finished until the last week of October.

The Indian summer gave joy to the producers in Sauternes. After the disappointment of 2000, the botrytis in 2001 has given what chateau owner Jean-Michel Cazes describes as "a glorious harvest, not seen since 1990, both in terms of quality and quantity."

     


Burgundy
As almost always in Burgundy, it's been a tale of two harvests—one for whites, the other for reds. The general view is that 2001 has been a year for long-lived whites.

For winemaker Olivier Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet, "2001 has been a good but not a great year. For the whites, there is plenty of dense color and plenty of fruit. There is more acidity than in 2000, which is good. In fact, overall I am very pleased with the Chardonnay, which has produced perfumed, elegant wines." It was a similar story in Chablis. At Domaine Servin, Marc Cameron reports that "we have returned to a more mineral, dry style of Chablis…2001 will be a wine of character."

For reds, the story is more mixed. Hailstorms in parts of Beaune severely reduced yields. Philippe Prost, the cellarmaster at Bouchard Père et Fils, believes that "2001 is better than 2000 for reds, because the véraison [the color change] was much more even this year than in 2000. It meant the bunches were more even and of generally good quality." But for Denis Santiard of négociant La Reine Pédauque, the "reds were less ripe in 2001 than in 2000. It was a year when we had to be extra selective because of the humidity in the growing season."

Pierre Jhean, winemaker and production manager at négociant Henri de Villamont sums it up: "I am happy, but I am also cautious about 2001. There are some years when you need to do almost nothing to make great wine. But in 2001, we had to work. The bad won't succeed in 2001, only the good."

     


Rhône
The Rhône has been lucky once again. As Thierry Boudinaud, head winemaker at Gabriel Meffre in Gigondas told me, "1998, 1999, 2000, 2001. Four vintages one after the other that all had at least one characteristic in common—lovely weather during the whole harvesting period, in particular this year."

"Overall, the quality in our Rhône Valley appellations is excellent," Meffre said. "The fruit flavors are very persistent. Despite the high degree of alcohol already present, the wines are balanced with a good texture and structure, and an elegant fleshiness."

In the northern Rhône, Julie Campos, director of the Tain l'Hermitage cooperative, the largest producer of Hermitage, believes that "this is a really excellent vintage, certainly the best I have ever seen in terms of the quality of the grapes. The sun and the dryness at harvest time gave us ideal conditions."

     


Alsace
The Indian summer continued well into October in the Alsace vineyards, giving the growers there a huge sense of relief, according to Etienne Hugel of Maison Hugel. "We have even been able to produce some vendange tardive wines, which earlier in the season we just didn't believe would be possible." But, as with the rest of France, vignerons in Alsace are saying that making great wine in 2001 has been hard work. It all depended, I was told, on the way the vines were managed during the year.

     


Champagne
The heavens opened in Champagne to herald the 2001 harvest. It was, claim the keepers of such records, the wettest harvest since 1873. The promise of good quantity and quality glimpsed the first week of September was dashed when picking finally started at the end of the month. Severe selection of moldy grapes kept yields down, but 2001 is not going to be a vintage year. "The best you can say is that it will be a useful nonvintage year," a senior cellar hand at one of the major houses told me, mindful of the fact that some firms will undoubtedly produce vintage wines anyway.

     


Loire
Growers in the Loire Valley are certain that their 2001 wines will be much better than the disappointing offerings from 2000. It is going to be a year for dry and sweet whites, according to négociant and vineyard owner Jean-Louis Saget. He believes that the harvest of Chenin Blanc for sweet whites in the Layon Valley (which finished on November 20) has produced "some very interesting things, with good botrytis that gave us good degrees [of sugar]." It won't, he says, be a great year, but certainly good.
At the far eastern end of the Loire vineyards, in Sancerre and Pouilly, the conditions were even better, according to Saget. "We were lucky to be able to harvest under beautiful blue skies and the grapes, once we had selected out any rot, were excellent. Both in Pouilly and in Sancerre we have made some very attractive wines."

—Roger Voss

     

[ITALY]

QUANTITY DOWN, QUALITY UP


Tuscany
Spring frost and summer heat wave (with temperatures well into the upper 90s), winter rain and summer drought: Tuscany has seen it all this year. Despite the huge climatic swings, winemakers from Chianti to Montalcino and over to the coast are pleased with the results. A few even have compared the quality with the stellar vintage of 1997.

At Castello Brolio in Chianti Classico, Francesco Ricasoli believes that "on the basis of the perfect ripening of the grapes and the right balance of its components, the harvest promises to be certainly of an outstanding quality." Lamberto Frescobaldi, whose family owns estates at Nippozano in Chianti Rufina and at Castelgiocondo in Montalcino, is delighted. "The quality of the grapes has been very good in 2001 in Tuscany, and wines show very nice perfumes and a good structure, with the capacity to age well."

Elsewhere in Montalcino, superlatives have flowed. Cristina Mariani, whose family owns Castello Banfi, believes that "the Brunellos bear all the prerequisites to become great wines. The frost at Easter actually functioned as a natural pruning device, lowering the yield yet ultimately contributing to grape quality."

     


Piedmont
"There is every indication that the wines will be outstanding," says Angelo Gaja. After a wet late winter and early spring, with a late frost at Easter, the summer in Piedmont was warm and dry, which was fine for vines on deep soils, although vines on lighter, sandy soils suffered. As the Nebbiolo harvest was completed in mid-October, there had been four months of good weather. "Although it is still too early to determine its ranking among other recent vintages, we can say the quantities have been the lowest of the past 60 years in all of Italy," says Gaja.

It was the precocity of the growing season that was one of its most noticeable characteristics, according to Giulio Porzio, president of the Piedmont Vine-Growers Association. "Cooler temperatures and long-awaited rainfall in early September favored the ripening of the grapes, which was regular but slower than in previous periods."

     


Veneto
Rain spoiled the harvest for Amarone wines in Valpolicella. "As usual, we started the harvest by picking those grapes that had been selected for drying," reports Sandro Boscaini of Masi. "This phase took place under splendid weather conditions. Unfortunately, several days of intense and irritating rains followed, combined with heat and humidity." Amarone producers prefer dry, cool weather during harvest and when the grapes are drying. In neighboring Soave, high alcohol levels and low acidity have resulted in some flabby wines.

     


The South
The harvest in southern Italy must be the longest anywhere. This year it began on August 1, with harvesting of Chardonnay in Apulia, and did not end until mid-October, when the late-ripening Aglianico was picked in Basilicata. Vicenzo Ercolino of Feudi di San Gregorio says he hasn't seen better Aglianico for more than 10 years.

Quantities were seriously down in Sicily, by as much as 20 percent. But winemakers there are happy with the results. Alessio Planeta, whose winery is in Menfi on the south coast of Sicily, says that he has never seen "such a well-balanced harvest."

—Roger Voss

     

[PORTUGAL]

A NUMBERS GAME
Beneficent weather across much of Portugal resulted in generally higher yields. This was especially important to Port producers, who were beginning to feel the effects of several consecutive small or variable vintages. Expect 2001 to be a single-quinta year, rather than a declared year, for vintage Port. Based on recent conversations with a number of producers, that honor will undoubtedly fall to the 2000s, although official declarations cannot be made until two years after the harvest. For the Port houses, much of this year's crop will go into rebuilding depleted stocks of rubies, tawnies and vintage-character Ports.

Adrian Bridge, managing director of Taylor Fonseca, calls the vintage "useful," while winemaker David Guimaraens says, "Although not as exuberant in aroma, many of the wines show as much color as in 2000."

Elsewhere in Portugal, the large crop and improved winemaking should mean a wealth of bargain-priced table wines from such regions as Dão, Bairrada, Alentejo and Ribatejo.

—Joe Czerwinski

     

[GERMANY & AUSTRIA]

A MIXED BAG


Germany
German growers did not harvest their most important Riesling vineyards until early November, later than usual after cool, damp weather in September. Predictions were of some rot but generally the impression was that the Riesling looked and tasted better than it did at the same time in any recent year. Weatherwise, the year was full of ups and downs, with a late flowering followed by a hot August and then a cool, damp September. Rain and cold weather spread into the vineyards in early November. One thing, though, is already certain: The crop will be smaller than that of 2000.

     


Austria
For Austrian winemakers, who harvest earlier than the Germans, this has been a year of dry white wines, with some excellent quality reported from the prestigious Grüner Veltliner and Riesling vineyards of the Wachau. Berthold Salomon, director of Austria's Wine Marketing Association, believes that the quality could equal 1999, which was one of the two best years of the 1990s. Elegance and concentration are already being praised as the hallmarks of the 2001 vintage. Producers of Austrian sweet wines were reserving judgement, waiting for the results of the Indian summer weather of October to come through in the vats
.

—Roger Voss

     

[SPAIN]

HISTORY-MAKING WINES
The 2001 harvest, says Fernándo Chivite, technical director of Navarra's Bodegas Julián Chivite, "is the best harvest in our history: The yields were low, the concentration is spectacular, and the wines will be extraordinary." With Chivite and other Spanish winemakers bestowing such lofty praise on the harvest in Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Penedès and Priorato (in fact, in most of Spain's red wine-producing regions), it's no surprise that the early buzz on Spain's 2001 vintage is that it is historically magnífico.

Hard frosts in April cut yields by 20 to 60 percent in many regions. A hot, dry summer—punctuated by timely but limited rainstorms in August and September—set the vineyards up for nearly perfect harvest weather. According to many top producers, the harvested grapes were exceptionally healthy and the resulting wines have great concentration and aromatics, superb depth of color and are showing "silky tannins."

José Manuel Pérez, enologist at Viña Pedrosa in Ribera del Duero, says that although his crop was only about 40 percent of normal, the quality of the vintage "can be defined as among the greatest of the great vintages." Miguel Torres, president and technical director of Catalonia's Bodegas Torres, says the quantity in Penedès and Catalonia in general was down 25 to 30 percent, but "in terms of quality, the result has been excellent with extremely healthy grapes with a great wealth of sugars, aromas and tannins."

—Gerry Dawes

     

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE
[AUSTRALIA]

HEAT WAVE YIELDS MIXED RESULTS
Extremely hot conditions prevailed over much of South Eastern Australia in the lead-up to the 2001 harvest. In the six weeks following New Year's, South Australia experienced four bouts of intense heat, with Adelaide recording a 10-day period of 100-degree-plus temperatures. This placed vines (and winemakers) in neighboring wine regions under considerable stress. It was so extreme that in early March, the Clare Valley's Jeffrey Grosset was speculating that one more burst of heat would mean disaster. Fortunately, ensuing cooler weather meant a decent crop of reds, but the real benefit went to late-ripening Riesling.

It was much the same story in the Barossa, although initial fears have given way to considerable enthusiasm for the red trifecta of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. There was shriveling and sunburn in the white grapes, but the wines have turned out okay. Eden Valley, being cooler than Barossa, did especially well with Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet.

McLaren Vale experienced its hottest summer for nigh on a century, and Sauvignon Blanc suffered. d'Arenberg picked its Sauvignon in late January—the earliest ever. Grenache did well in the heat, while Shiraz and Cabernet developed lots of sugar and tannin but less complexity. There's a lot of excitement at Southcorp and BRL Hardy over the quality of Padthaway Shiraz—and there's also plenty of it. Coonawarra is more mixed. Some stressed vineyards never recovered, and many overcropped new plantings didn't ripen. A lot of cheap Cabernet was on the market at the end of vintage.

In New South Wales, the Hunter Valley experienced a classic vintage: a warm sunny lead-up and then rain midway through the harvest. The Sémillon, which was picked before the rain, is exemplary, the Chardonnay is a mixed bag and the reds will be serviceable but forgettable. Further inland, reliably dry Mudgee had its best vintage in three years, even though hail wreaked havoc in some vineyards. Shiraz and Chardonnay should be good.

Two thousand miles away in Western Australia, the vintage was by the book. The Margaret River region had winter rain, a warm, dry growing season and none of the cyclonic activity that has caused heart flutters over the past few years. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling from Western Australia will easily be some of the best in the country in 2001.

—Tim White

     

[NEW ZEALAND]

A VINTAGE OF TWO HALVES


North Island
It was a difficult, challenging season in the top half of New Zealand's North Island. Poor fruit set in November was followed by a dry December and January, then four weeks of tropical humidity and rain set in just as the early white grapes were in their final ripening phase. While the Auckland and Northland producers set about the tedious task of crop thinning and dropping botrytis-affected bunches, the large contract growers in Gisborne went into a frenzy of panicked picking. Those who held on, however, were rewarded with patches of excellence.

The vineyards of Waikato and Hawkes Bay succumbed to late spring frosts, with some growers in the Bay losing up to 90 percent of their grapes. Unsettled weather patterns prevailed during harvest but some excellent fruit, especially Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, was harvested.

     


South Island
The lower North Island and all of the South Island reveled in drought conditions after a cool start to the season. While water management was an issue for some growers, the long, warm days and cool nights produced exceptional fruit and record yields. There will be many highlights from the vintage and the wines that have already been released, such as the brightly flavored Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, speak for themselves.

—Sue Courtney

     

[SOUTH AFRICA]

GREAT WEATHER EQUALS GREAT WINES
Spring 2000 gave little cause for enthusiasm. The third uncommonly warm and dry winter in succession left reservoirs worryingly depleted and vines budding unevenly and late. Crops were significantly reduced, up to 70 percent in some Chardonnay vineyards. But negligible disease, fruit-retaining cool nights—even during the traditional February heat wave—and the benefits of low yields realized in fully ripe grapes put the harvest smile back on winemakers' faces.

Stellenbosch recorded an increased yield, unique in 2001, thanks to newly bearing vineyards. Concentrated whites are matched by what Kanonkop's Beyers Truter terms "a red-wine year that compares with the best." In neighboring Paarl, Shiraz and Pinotage look particularly good, although Merlot and Cabernet are still a bit dumb. Maritime-influenced Constantia and Durbanville have shone with their signature Sauvignon Blanc.

Prior to a blistering 100-degree-plus February heat wave, the west coast and Swartland yielded pure fruited whites and softly tannic reds, with early-ripening Pinotage the pick of the bunch. Inland Robertson, with its uncommon limestone soils, has produced well-balanced, fruity Chardonnays. This year's vintage promises some exceptional, age-worthy wines from all major varieties.

—Angela Lloyd

     

[ARGENTINA]

HARVEST RAINS MAKE FOR VARIABLE WINES
The 2001 harvest in Mendoza, the heart and soul of Argentina's burgeoning winegrowing industry, was variable. Some of Mendoza's subregions managed to produce superb wines, if grapes were picked early or very late. Other regions, however, produced wines of mixed quality.

The culprit was unusually cool weather and rain during the last week of March and first week of April, prime harvest time. The rain, however, was not torrential, thus it was not devastating to the 2001 harvest. Nor did it affect Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the small amounts of Pinot Noir that exist, because these grapes were harvested at optimum quality in the first half of March. The wines in question for 2001 will be the country's prized late-ripening reds—Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular.

Those wineries and growers that feared severe damage to their crops and harvested amid the rains run the risk of producing underripe, dilute wines. But patience was rewarded. "After April 5, sunshine came flooding back and lasted to the end of harvest," said Jose Asensio of Familia Zuccardi/Santa Julia. "It allowed for good ripening in the red varieties for both sugar and polyphenols."

Overall, 2001 will turn out to be a year of moderate to good quality, with most of the higher-quality producers putting out good wines by Argentinean standards. Will they be as stunning as the impeccable 1999s? In most cases, no.

—Michael Schachner

    

[CHILE]

A FIRST FOR LOWER YIELDS
Mother Nature smiled on Chile this past harvest, providing winemakers with all they'll need to make pure, concentrated wines. Unlike Argentina, its neighbor across the Andes, Chile experienced near-perfect weather throughout the growing season, including the harvest period of late March/early April. The end result, according to several winemakers, is wines of intensity and clarity. "The quality is definitely better this year than in 2000," said Matias Lecaros, winemaker at Viña Carmen in the Maipo Valley.

If there is any one theme to the 2001 Chilean harvest, a year that should offer top-grade wines regardless of variety, it is lower yields. For the first time in modern winemaking history, the Chileans committed themselves to reducing yields, even going so far as green harvesting to reduce crops. "Because of the explosive increase in planted surfaces, wineries and growers saw a potential problem with volume," said Christian Sotomayor of De Martino wines, near Santiago. Ultimately, the 2001 crush was 30 percent smaller than what most observers saw as a bloated 2000. And that is despite the fact that acreage under vines in Chile has grown by 28 percent during the past three years. "Having said this, we also had an incredible year weather-wise. A wet winter led to a mild spring and a long, mild, dry summer. The 2001 vintage will be a vintage to remember," claims Sotomayor.

—Michael Schachner

     

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