2002 Harvest Report

The recently harvested 2002 vintage was a tumultuous one in the Northern Hemisphere. Rain soaked much of Europe, while heat spikes raised fears in California vineyards. And the climatic gyrations were not confined to northern latitudes—Chile got soaked, while reports out of Argentina are much sunnier. Our annual harvest report gives you the inside track on which regions fared the best (and the worst) in 2002.


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The recently harvested 2002 vintage was a tumultuous one in the Northern Hemisphere. Rain soaked much of Europe, while heat spikes raised fears in California vineyards. And the climatic gyrations were not confined to northern latitudes—Chile got soaked, while reports out of Argentina are much sunnier. Our annual harvest report gives you the inside track on which regions fared the best (and the worst) in 2002.

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

France
"Saved by the sun" should be the motto of many French producers in 2002. In the west of the country, from Bordeaux and the southwest to the Loire, only September sunshine saved 2002 from a disaster of the same proportions as 1992. Further east in France, the story of harvest 2002 has been quite different.

Bordeaux
"It's been a miracle," said Patrick Léon of Château Mouton-Rothschild in Pauillac. "At the end of August we thought it would be terrible. But September made the harvest." Hubert Boüard de Laforest, of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion, echoed that view: "The vintage caused us worry right through the year. It was only because we kept up
our work in the vineyard that we were able to benefit from the good weather of September."

Even so, grape selection tables were vibrating in every Bordeaux chateau, as the harvest, which was 12 percent below average, arrived in the cellars. The only producers to celebrate 2002 were those making dry white wines, and those making Sauternes and Barsac. "It's so good this year, maybe we will actually make a profit," said the owner of one classed-growth Sauternes property. This is the second year running that sweet wines in Bordeaux have outperformed the reds.

     

Loire
The worries that affected Bordeaux also gave Loire growers sleepless nights. But the harvest, which, as usual, did not start until the end of September, took place in great weather. According to local wine courtier Charles Sydney, "The Sauvignons in Touraine are very nice, especially if quantities were thinned out before harvest, while the quality of the Muscadet is fantastic."

     

Champagne
Much of eastern France had a better year than the west. In Champagne, producers were delighted with the cool but dry summer and the dry conditions before harvest. "It is certainly better than 2001, which was a disaster," said grower Didier Gimmonet. "We had plenty of flavor in the grapes, and enough sugar for the alcohol." As the wines finished fermenting, producers became even more optimistic. "I am sure this will be one of the best vintages in the last 10 years," said Claude Taittinger. Other producers compared 2002 to 1989 or 1990 in terms of quality.

     

Alsace
Growers in Alsace held off harvesting until early October, well beyond the usual date, in order to give the grapes a chance to shake off the effects of a humid summer. The wait was worthwhile, according to the Pfaffenheim cooperative: "We brought in Gewürztraminer at an exceptional 17 degrees. There are some really excellent wines from 2002, even though it won't be a really great year."

     

Burgundy
To the south, Burgundians were united in believing that 2002 will turn out to be a great vintage, for both whites and reds. The quality of the vintage buoyed the annual Hospices de Beaune sale. It cut the fall in price, caused by the economic climate, to single digits. Franck Grux, cellar master at Olivier Leflaive, reckons "this will be a year for aging wines. The maturity of the Pinot Noir in some regions, particularly Pommard and Volnay, was exceptional. With Chardonnay, low yields and rich sugar levels, with the added bonus of good acidity, have meant that the white wines will be comparable to 1990 or 1992."

     

Rhône
The producers to suffer the most in France were those in the southern Rhône Valley and the Languedoc. Floods in early September, just before the harvest began, devastated vineyards in the Gard region and in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Cellars were flooded, vines were uprooted, grapes were left for days submerged in water. Some producers decided to forget about 2002 altogether, while others are predicting they will have produced half the normal crop. The wines now in the cellars are described as light and fruity, although a few producers in the northern Rhône were able to make some concentrated wines.

     

Languedoc
Which leaves the poor Languedoc. The Gard region lost a quarter of its normal production to floods, and an unknown number of growers have been left without cellars or vineyards. Low yields elsewhere in the region have boosted quality, but 2002 in the south of France will never be a great year.

     

—Roger Voss

 


Spain
In Spain, although the best producers will make some very good wines, 2002 is a harvest that most classify as problemático. Expect irregular quality in many regions. As in every vintage, it is the producers bent on quality—even if they have to sacrifice large portions of their crop—who will triumph in difficult vintages such as 2002.

Rioja
Mixed messages are coming out of Rioja. A dry winter, low temperatures in December (which caused uneven budding and lower grape cluster and grape size counts), damage from two April frosts, higher than normal summer rainfall (which caused botrytis outbreaks) and rains halfway through the harvest all combined to produce a crop that was only 75 percent its usual size. Some places, such as Cenicero in La Rioja Alta, reported yields 50 percent lower than 2001.

Despite reports of 2002 as a spotty vintage, several producers claim they will have excellent wines, but from a dramatically reduced harvest. At Marqués de Riscal, healthy harvested grapes amounted to only 60 percent of 2001 levels. Francisco Hurtado, the bodega's technical director, said the health of his grapes, the product of a stringent selection process, "while not optimum, was not really problematic." Hurtado reports good alcohol levels, good color and good tannins.

But Jésus Madrazo, the general manager of Contino, admitted that 2002 was a difficult year and declared that he would not be making his prized Graciano varietal and El Olivo single-parcel wines, which will be used to ensure the quality of his Contino Reserva. He believes the blend will be "very good" because of his decision.

     

Ribera del Duero and Toro
In Ribera del Duero and adjoining Toro, Mariano García, of Bodegas Mauro and Bodegas Maurodos, reported a short crop. He said his picking crews left a lot of substandard grapes in the vineyards in both areas over the course of the harvest and that sorting tables were an absolute necessity to obtain quality wines. "In this vintage there will be a great difference in quality from producer to producer," García said. In Ribera del Duero itself, there were reports of a "disastrous" harvest for some producers. But producers who used only the best grapes harvested during the optimum periods will make good wines.

     

Cataluña
Miguel Torres, the top producer in Cataluña, reported, "Summer 2002 was characterized by frequent rains in August in the Penedès. It also rained on some days at the beginning of September with the result that the early maturing varieties (Macabeo, Chardonnay and Tempranillo) were affected by botrytis. Selection had to be maximized (with losses of 25-30 percent) and maturity did not reach the usual limits. The weather in the Penedès, and in general, was splendid from 7th September on, and in the following two weeks maturity of the Parellada, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha Tinta varieties, among others, took place in very good conditions."

Much the same situation was reported in Mediterranean Priorato. The usable crop was only two-thirds of last year's quantity, but Carles Pastrana, owner of Clos de L'Obac, said, "No one is going to speak highly of the 2002 crop, but it was a good vintage for those who used a rigorous grape selection and avoided problems with rot."

     

Galicia
In the white wine regions of Galicia's Rías Baixas, with more acreage under vines in 2002, fewer grapes were harvested than last year, but it was still the second largest crop in history. Early reports are that the wines in this region, where the Albariño grape reigns supreme, will be very good.

     

—Gerry Dawes

 


Italy
It's being called the smallest harvest in 45 years. Rain, cool weather and floods combined to damage or destroy crops from Piedmont to Calabria. Only Tuscany in the center, Friuli in the northeast and Sicily escaped the generally dismal picture for Italian grape growers in 2002.

Production will not exceed 1.3 billion gallons, according to official government estimates, which is 10 percent less than 2001. The worst-hit areas include the Veneto (down 15 percent) and the Langhe region of Piedmont (including Barolo and Barbaresco), which was down as much as 70 percent.

Quality-wise, the picture is equally mixed. The same area can have low quality and good quality, depending on how the rains and the floods hit the vineyards.

Producers in Barolo were despairing as they watched the work of the year disappear in violent hail and torrential rainstorms. "I can't see many people making Barolo at all this year," said Barolo producer Elio Altare. "If we can rescue anything at all, we will need at least a year to see if it is any good," said Angelo Gaja.

Further east, in the Veneto, Amarone production has fallen by half, as the same hailstorms that hit Piedmont attacked the vineyards of Valpolicella. "What wasn't damaged by hail, was damaged by mold," according to Emilion Fasoletti of the local growers' association. "We will have to select very carefully even to make Valpolicella."

The Friuli vineyards of Italy's far northeast were spared the worst of the weather. "We have made wines which are well above average," said Gianni Menotti of Villa Russiz in Collio. "The main problem is quantity. We just don't have enough wine."

Bad weather also hit the vineyards of southern Italy, but spared Sicily. Gianni Zonin, whose family has vineyards on the island, says that "we have good alcohol and an excellent level of acidity. We should be able to make this a vintage to remember."

The brightest spot in Italy was Tuscany, which missed both the bad weather in the north and the cool weather in the south. Stefano Campatelli, director of the Brunello di Montalcino consortium, was optimistic, predicting "optimal quality in the wines," while Francisco Mazzei at Castello di Fonterutoli in Chianti Classico was "more than satisifed with the quality of the wines in 2002." Most positive was Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, who was almost lyrical in his comments: "The grapes were perfect," he said. "It should be a top-vintage year."

     

—Roger Voss

 


Germany
and Austria

Harvesting for sweet wines continued well into late November in Germany, as growers predicted 2002 could be a year for ultrarich beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese wines. Growing conditions in September were the best that they have been in years, according to growers in the Mosel and Rheingau, and by early October, some producers in the Mosel were able to harvest Riesling with must weights high enough for TBA. The likely success of 2002 makes this year the fourth out of five in a string of good vintages coming out of Germany.

Austria was the first European wine region to endure floods in 2002. But the August downpour was early enough to allow vines to recover well before harvest. In the end, 2002 could turn out to be a great year, according the Berthold Salomon of Weingut Salomon-Undhof in Krems. "The harvest, especially the Grüner Veltliner, came in under perfect conditions," he said. It should also turn out to be a top year for reds and sweet whites. Producers put much of their success down to a stricter-than-usual thinning of grapes because of the rot produced by the August rains.

     

—Roger Voss

 


Portugal
As elsewhere in Europe, rain literally stopped play in the Portuguese harvest. It was a stop-start vintage, according to Carrie Jorgenson of Cortes de Cima in the Alentejo. "The rains in September beat a 60-year record," she said. "The humidity combined with the elevated temperatures were a perfect breeding ground for rot and fungus." To beat the spread of rot, they were "forced to squeeze a seven- to eight-week harvest into three to four weeks."

Further north, in Dão and Bairrada, rains decimated the late-ripening red varieties. However, the earlier varieties have made wines surprisingly full of color and concentration. The success is the result of the country's increasingly sophisticated vineyard techniques, and the high quality of the pre-rain grapes.

In the Port vineyards of the Douro, rain on September 13 interrupted harvesting, which had begun in the quality vineyards of the upper Douro a week before. Growers were forced to wait for the grapes to dry out before harvesting again. Lower down the river, table wine and lesser-quality Port producers found the berries swollen by rains as they struggled to gather in a harvest that had looked so good a week before.

     

—Roger Voss

 


California
Vintage of the century or harvest plagued by September heat waves that ripened everything at once, and caused grapes to shrivel into raisins?

Maybe a little of both.

At our late November press time, vintners up and down the state are crowing about the season, which brought the latest rains (November 6) in memory.

Until Labor Day the vintage looked perfect, with cool temperatures and slow, even ripening. My ongoing notes suggest how beautiful the weather was.

March 3: "...the most fabulous winter in living memory."
July 7: "A very nice spring and summer so far."
Aug. 1: "July was pleasant but a little cool."
Aug. 29: "Continues to be cool."

Suddenly, along came September.

Sept. 4: "Intense statewide heat wave."
Sept. 20: "Another heat wave."
Oct. 15: "Finally very cold and foggy, but no rain."

But by then, 95 percent of the grapes had been picked.

The cool August ensured slow but steady ripening—just what vintners like. But with the Labor Day and subsequent September heat waves, everything speeded up. Sugar levels rose by as much as 3° brix in a single day, causing some vintners problems finding enough fermenters for the quickly ripening grapes. In the second week of September, Clos du Bois winemaker Margaret Davenport reported from Alexander Valley, "[All] varieties [are] coming into the winery at once." On September 20, during the second heat wave, Iron Horse's Forrest Tancer told me, "We're running around trying to keep up. Everything's ripening at once." On October 6, several Napa Cabernet winemakers said that raisining would be a problem with other people's Cabernet—but not with their own, of course.

Down in Santa Barbara, "We also had the heat. Pinot Noir jumped two points [brix] overnight, so you had to get to work picking," says Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen. In San Luis Obispo, Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards reports that "The September heat wave pushed sugars to the point where we had no choice but to pick."

Up in the Sierra Foothills, "We had a real scare in that heat wave," says Sobon Estate's Leon Sobon. "Nothing was getting ripe because of the cool summer, and that heat accelerated everything so fast that the grapes were getting soft and starting to dehydrate."

Still, it would be wrong to exaggerate the heat's potentially harmful effects. Among its positive effects was a lack of mold and rot throughout the state; indeed, vintners who wanted to make botrytis-affected wines were disappointed.

Also, growers have many ways to ameliorate heat, such as watering and utilizing the canopy to shelter grapes from the sun. Not all vineyards were equally affected, and the latest-ripening varieties were spared from the sun's worst effects. Says Donald Patz of Napa Valley's Patz & Hall, "Overall ripeness and flavor development varied from site to site."

Still, it's clear that tasters will be watching for excessive alcohol levels and the overripe, pruny flavors that mark an overly hot vintage. Here's a region-by-region rundown.

North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon
Many will be superb, especially from vineyards that managed the harvest well. William Hill's winemaker, Tina Mitchell, says the warmth was actually a plus: "The reds are exhibiting loads of ripe, intense blackberry and plum flavors." Iron Horse's Tancer, whose Cabernets come from Alexander Valley, now downplays the effects of the heat. "It was of short duration, and balanced by cold nights. It could still be a spectacular vintage."

     

North Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
Marimar Torres, in Green Valley, predicts a memorable vintage. "Picking at the right moment was more important than ever" because of the heat, she says. "I was constantly speaking to the pickers in my native Spanish" to select out any berries "that were sunburned."

Tom Rochioli, in the Russian River, offers a more subdued judgment. "We picked some [Pinot Noir] before the heat wave…frankly, when it happened, I tried not to pick, but to lay off until the vines recovered." But nearby, Dutton-Goldfield's Dan Goldfield says 2002 "will be one of the best Pinot vintages ever."

     

North Coast Zinfandel
At Quivira in Dry Creek Valley, winemaker Grady Wann says, "I haven't seen Zinfandel grapes this clean and healthy," although Duff Bevill, a local vineyard management company owner, adds that "the challenge was to strike a balance between sugars and acids" because of the intense heat. In Napa Valley, Zinfandel was picked a week or so after Labor Day. It seems likely at this point that high alcohol will be a problem for some.

     

Central Coast and Santa Barbara
"We had real low yields; quality will be good," says Clendenen, adding, "no problem with herbal, green stuff."

Firestone's winemaker, Kevin Willenborg, in Santa Ynez Valley, also discounted the two heat waves because of their short duration. "It got hot for a few days, then it cooled down. It was a nice kick-start to the harvest."

Dan Gainey, of Gainey Vineyard, says Pinot and Chardonnay "look to be of very high quality," although yields will be low. Patz says Pinot and Chardonnay grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands were "picture-perfect…the heat was less intense [in Monterey] due to significant breezes from Monterey Bay."

     

Mendocino and Lake Counties
These regions had very similar conditions, with cool summers and hot Septembers, followed by a return to near-normal conditions. Some areas in the northern reaches received light rainfall in mid-October, but not enough to affect quality. Inland reds may suffer from high alcohol levels and raisiny flavors. Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley could be better than normal because of the heat.

     

—Steve Heimoff

 


Washington
Washington vintners are getting bored—in a good way. For the fifth straight year, Mother Nature smiled on the harvest, and winemakers statewide are excited about what they're tasting in the tank. But getting there was an eventful ride.

An early May snowstorm dumped three inches on Walla Walla vineyards already well past bud break, and low overnight temperatures had vintners anxious all over the Yakima Valley as well. But the cold weather passed with no damage done, and things moved along evenly until mid-July, when a heat spike struck, stressing vines and halting growth. Thin-skinned grapes like Sangiovese got "fried," said one grower.

The cool start to spring produced a poor fruit set; the heat wave further shrunk the grapes and reduced yield. But smaller berries and lower yields are plusses when the back half of harvest rolls along smoothly, as it did throughout Washington. And despite the low yields, enough new vineyards came on line to boost production 10 percent over 2001.

Chris Upchurch, winemaker for DeLille Cellars, notes that "even with the abundance of heat and early harvest, true to Washington State, we kept our natural acidity. The result is wines of high sugars, high acidity, high extract, much like 1999."

Walla Walla vigneron Christophe Baron, whose Cayuse Vineyards specializes in Syrah, believes it's a sensational year. "The Cabernets look beautiful, probably the best ever," he enthuses. "The Syrah I have never seen at this stage of physiological ripeness."

Notes grower Dick Boushey, "In my 25 years of grape growing I cannot remember a better fall. The weather has been totally dry with warm days and cool nights since September and all of October."

It's shaping up to be a good year for white wines, and a great year—along the lines of 1999—for reds, especially Cabernet and Syrah.

     

—Paul Gregutt


Oregon
Oregon's string of rainless harvests was stopped at four, as occasionally heavy rains hit parts of the Willamette Valley in early October. Fortunately, many wineries had already brought in most or all of their grapes before the rains hit; those that waited out the rains were helped by warm, sunny weather throughout the rest of the month.

The growing season got off to a slow start with a cold, wet spring and some frosts. In the warmer vineyards of southern Oregon, a summer heat spike affected some vineyards, while drought stressed others. There were even isolated hailstorms.

At Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO), harvest began on September 28th before being briefly halted by the threat of rain. What followed were 15 perfect 75-85°F sunny days and cool nights. DDO reports that the fruit was perfectly healthy, flavors were concentrated and intense, and the juice showed excellent balance and acidity.

"The 2002 cluster counts indicate that the yields and quality will be similar to the 1992 harvest," notes Brad Biehl, King Estate's General Manager. Ponzi winemaker Luisa Ponzi comments that there were two different harvests in the valley: those wineries with young vines in warm sites who were forced to pick rather early and sacrifice flavor intensity for reasonable alcohol levels, and those with older vines and cooler sites who were able to allow the fruit to hang and develop more slowly.

All in all, it's a vintage with considerable variation, yet strong potential for those who dodged the raindrops, heat spikes and hailstones.

     

—Paul Gregutt

 


Northeast
U.S.

It was a roller-coaster year, but as winemakers always do, growers in the Northeast call it a good vintage.

Winter was mild and relatively dry, and shifted almost seamlessly into a promising spring. Mark Wagner of Lamoreaux Landing in New York's Finger Lakes, and Jolietta Kirk of Sakonnett Vineyards on Rhode Island reported bud break on April 19th, a record early date for both regions. But the warm spring turned wet and cold, then shifted again into a hot, dry summer, which once again raised expectations. As autumn began, wet and cold conditions returned, then gave way to a promisingly warm and dry period, until rainy, cold weather stormed back for the final days of harvest. Despite the erratic year, the New York Agricultural Statistics Service projects harvest at 145,000 tons, down only 4,000 tons from 2001. Morton Hallgren, winemaker at Dr. Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, calls it an abundant crop, but one that lacks the excellent potential of 2001.

On Long Island, Kip Bedell of Bedell Cellars predicts a good vintage, particularly for the reds, with strikingly dark colors and good fruit, but said two late autumn storms killed hopes for an exceptional year. Eric Miller, of Chaddsford Winery in Pennsylvania, said late spring frosts wiped out one-third of his crop, while New Jersey growers called 2002 an abundant year.

     

—Mort Hochstein

 

Australia
Wet spring weather caused poor fruit set, which resulted in significantly reduced yields across the premium winegrowing regions of South Eastern Australia. However, 2002 also boasted one of the coolest summers and driest harvest periods in the past 100 years, which enhanced flavor development and acid levels with no disease pressure. The warm autumn weather extended the ripening period so that appropriate sugar levels could be attained in most instances. Many winemakers believe these mild conditions have helped create well-balanced wines of great finesse.

While yields are down, winemakers in the Barossa Valley are pleased with the finesse and quality of both their reds and whites as a result of the unusually moderate summer temperatures. It's "a true grape growers' vintage," according to Stuart Bourne at BRL Hardy's Barossa Valley Estate.

Chester Osborne at d'Arenberg in McLarenVale said that although yields are down by as much as 50 percent, "the wines are potentially very stylish and fragrant with great aging potential. Overly herbaceous qualities might be an issue, however." He added that it all depends on how winemakers in Australia manage this unusually cool vintage—not a situation that customarily arises in this part of the world.

Although yields are down by as much as 25 percent, winemakers in the nearby Clare Valley are particularly pleased with their signature Rieslings, which are showing good flavor concentration, great structure and finesse as a result of the lower yields and superior ripening conditions.

Yields in Coonawarra, South Australia's renowned Cabernet growing region, and Victoria's Yarra Valley were down by 50 percent. Coonawarra's wines generally have great depth of flavor and good acid balance as a result of the optimum ripening conditions. Yarra Valley winemakers believe that the thinner fruit loads were able to ripen effectively during the cool summer with quality being excellent across all grape varieties.

At opposite ends of the Australian wine regions, Margaret River in Western Australia and Hunter Valley in New South Wales both experienced rain during harvest. Chardonnay yields in the Margaret River are down between 10 and 70 percent as a result of uneven bud burst, but the flavor concentration and finesse are there as a result of the cool summer weather. The quality of the reds depends largely on whether they were picked before the rain started.

Apart from the harvest rains, the mild summer weather in the Hunter created optimal conditions for the region's signature Sémillon, which is looking elegant and built to age, while the reds have good color and acid balance.

Australia's high-volume grape-growing districts, such as the Riverland region, had the best season on record in terms of quality, largely because of the uncharacteristically long, cool summer.

     

—Julia A. Clarey

 


New
Zealand

With yields returning to normal after a frost-affected 2001, and an increase in vineyard producing area, the 2002 harvest is almost 50 percent higher than any previous crop.

With neither a dominant El Niño nor La Niña weather phase, conditions were remarkably similar over all regions. A warm spring followed a dry winter, and vines went through bud burst and flowering without any frost. Rain and unsettled weather arrived in late spring and persisted throughout most of summer, the natural irrigation resulting in vigorous growth. Late summer brought much- needed hot, dry weather and sighs of relief. Autumn was warm and generally dry with increased cloud cover providing warmer nights than usually experienced. Growers let grapes hang and ripen fully.

The early-release whites are good to very good and are fruity and flavorsome. Riesling, especially, is terrific. Sauvignon Blanc ranges from good to exceptional, with styles to suit all palates. Chardonnay and Syrah were the highlights of the Hawkes Bay 2002 vintage review barrel tasting held six months after vintage; the Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon range from good to excellent. Pinot Noir from Central Otago is reported as being some of the best to date.

     

—Sue Courtney

 


Chile and
Argentina

The 2002 vintage in Chile and Argentina is truly a tale of two countries, potentially proving that while the majority of the wine-drinking public may view Chile and Argentina in much the same light, they are far from identical.

East of the Andes, producers are ecstatic, claiming that optimal conditions throughout the growing season and extending through the harvest yielded Argentina's best vintage in the past 10 years. Which is no small assertion given the high quality of both the 1999 and 1997 vintages. Hail, often the prime evil in Argentina's high-altitude vineyards, wasn't an issue this year. Nor was rain or large temperature swings. As a result, expect sensational red wines from Mendoza as well as healthy, acid-driven whites.


Harvesting Malbec at Altos Les Homigas in Mendoza

"Dry, warm weather was a constant," says Pedro Marchevsky, vineyard manager for Catena, which produces a number of Argentina's better wines. "The white grapes were full of intense aromatics, rich flavors and balanced acidity, while Malbec, our star grape, was indeed the star of the 2002 vintage."

Chile, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. Rain was heavier than normal during the January-to-April growing season. And in some of the southern wine-producing valleys, primarily Maule, Lontué and Curicó, crippling rain poured down prior to and during the harvest. The prime culprit was a drenching March storm that dropped up to 13 centimeters of rain on vineyards, thus ruining between 30 percent and 50 percent of the white grapes and bloating many of the red ones. Botrytis, usually not a problem for Chile, ran rampant in the southern valleys and rot was a serious issue. Even Colchagua, referred to in our March 2002 issue as the prime spot in the country for red wines, was hit with unusually heavy rains. Therefore, the red wines from this burgeoning valley probably will not match the quality achieved in 1999 and 2001.

Chilean vintners, however, are not calling 2002 a total washout, pointing out that further north, in Maipo, Casablanca and Aconcagua, conditions were closer to normal. As a result, most wines from these appellations will be, at the very worst, good.

"In Maipo, the Cabernet should be good to very good, probably equal in quality to our 2001," says Marcelo Papa, a member of the winemaking team at Concha y Toro. Andrés Ilabaca, winemaker at Santa Rita, agreed with that assessment: "Our Maipo properties were not really affected by the rains—we had less than 10 millimeters. We got complete maturity from our red grapes and they showed good development, concentration and provided for easy extraction."

Chile

     

Argentina

     

—Michael Schachner

 

South
Africa
Winter 2001 provided the conditions all farmers were waiting for: copious rain and cold temperatures. Unfortunately, the wettest season in 40 years didn't know when to stop. Further rains through spring and into January encouraged outbreaks of downy mildew and rot. Those on top of their viticulture rode out these difficulties and were rewarded by cool temperatures lasting well into February, which encouraged slow ripening and the buildup of concentrated flavors.

The traditional harvest heat wave eventually arrived, striking long and hard before winter abruptly set in. "The 2002 harvest was all about climatic conditions of extremes," recall Gary and Kathy Jordan of Jordan Vineyards (labeled Jardin in the U.S.). For producers in the major regions who've emerged unscathed, the quality is terrific, the minute quantity terrifying.

Despite one of the smallest crops on record in the Stellenbosch region, expect complex, structured Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Merlot, if it was harvested before the heat wave. In most regions, Cabernet Sauvignon suffered from the weather conditions. The cool, breezy slopes of Constantia, Durbanville and the maritime-influenced vineyards of Swartland should confirm their growing reputations with excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Brushing aside all obstacles, Shiraz performed well in warmer parts of Swartland and Paarl. The only unequivocal enthusiasm for Chardonnay comes from inland Robertson, alone among quality areas with a higher crop than 2001. Up-and-coming south coast regions—Walker Bay, Elim and Elgin—have produced elegant, powerful Pinot Noirs and intense Sauvignon Blancs.

Overall, 2002 is a year to follow individual producers rather than regions or varieties.

     

—Angela Lloyd

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