Vintage 2000

Vintage 2000

The editors of Wine Enthusiast take you around the world to review the first harvest of the millennium.

North America
Stormy weather, mixed messages

How was the 2000 vintage in California? It depends on whom you ask—and when you asked them. If you had asked before the last week of October, the almost universal answer would have been “a classic vintage.” At least, that’s how the Wine Institute described the harvest at its annual Vintage Press Conference, held in San Francisco on October 24.

After years of El Niños and La Niñas, a host of speakers said, California’s weather had finally returned to normal. Speaker after speaker, representing every growing region, predicted that quality would be very high. In Mendocino, McDowell Valley owner/
winemaker Bill Crawford said the vintage “promises to be one of the best in the past decade.” Delicato’s Tom Smith said quality in Monterey would be “excellent.” Joseph Phelps’ president Tom Shelton said vintage 2000 would be “very strong and quite possibly classic.” In Sonoma County, Dry Creek’s general manager, Don Wallace, called all varietals “excellent” except, possibly, Zinfandel, which had uneven ripening on the clusters. In Paso Robles, Justin co-owner Deborah Baldwin called the 2000 harvest “kind,” while farther south, James C. Flood, president of Rancho Sisquoc in Santa Barbara County, called the harvest “excellent.”

But on Oct. 26 it started raining throughout the North Coast, and the storms quickly worked their way southward. It rained for the better part of a week. By that time, most early- ripening grapes (although not all) were completely or almost completely picked, but late ripeners, including Cabernet Sauvignon, were still on the vines—up to 30 percent of the crop, depending on the region.

To recap: Spring was cool and moist, except for a massive heat wave in mid-June. July and August settled down to perfect weather, with day after day of moderately warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Picking began on Sauvignon Blanc in August. The month ended on a cool note that continued into early September, slowing down ripening, which growers welcomed, since it assured longer hang times. A brief, freak rainstorm swept the state on September 1, but did no damage; Chateau Montelena winemaker Bo Barrett said it “cleaned the dust off the grapes.”

A second heat wave, spanning September 17-19, sent growers scurrying to get the grapes in. October 9-10 marked the season’s first heavy rains and fears of rot and mildew were widespread, but the weather quickly turned sunny and warm again, and the grapes dried out nicely. Perhaps 70 percent of the state’s grapes were picked by the final week of October, when those heavy rains struck. By October 27, flood advisories were issued for much of Santa Barbara County, especially the Santa Ynez Valley. By early November, skies cleared again, but it seemed clear that the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon and related varietals had been compromised. As for yields, they are average, although final numbers won’t be reported by the state until February 2001.

Michael Martini, of Louis M. Martini, predicts “a big flavor year.” Shelton of Joseph Phelps says white wines and Pinot Noir, which were picked before the rains, should be excellent. In early November, he said that if the Cabernet could enjoy a little more sunny, dry weather, rot problems would be minimal—and as it turned out, the weather cooperated. At Beringer, winemaker Ed Sbragia calls the crop “very good to maybe excellent.” He predicts Chardonnay will be particularly rich. As for Cabernet, “There was rain but for the most part we had maturity.”

Of course, whenever winemakers talk about their own wines, things are fine; problems arise only when they discuss someone else’s. “From what I’m hearing, [Napa] Cabernet is quite variable,” says Jade Mountain winemaker Douglas Danielak. “I’ve talked to vintners who still had tons of Cabernet on the vine [when the rains began]. There was no way they could pull it off. I’ve heard that Merlot has started to rot.”

Adds Michael Terrien, winemaker at Acacia, “For early-ripening varieties, the rain was no concern, but some people with later-ripening varieties got into some cold water, literally.” Terrien says all Carneros Pinot and Chardonnay had been picked before the rains “and is in line to become something good. We had long hang time and were not forced to pick because of the rains. The cellar is full of particularly dark, dense Pinot Noir.”
In the Stag’s Leap district, Stag’s Leap Winery winemaker Robert Brittan, speaking after the rains, called the harvest “difficult,” explaining, “This was the first time, almost, I’ve ever seen botrytis on Cabernet and Merlot.” But, he adds, he had picked 90 percent of his Cabernet before the rains and vigorously hand-sorted clusters afterward, “so the rain did not affect my Cabernet.”

Wallace, at Dry Creek Vineyard, says the September 1 storm gave vintners “visions of ’89 haunting our thoughts,” but warm, dry weather followed and “we dodged another harvest bullet.” White grapes are “great;” Pinot Noir, “excellent.” But in late October, when the rains came, Wallace called unpicked Zinfandel “a quandary” and predicted it “will test each winemaker’s talents and patience.”

Tom Mackey, winemaker at St. Francis, says the rain “caused more of a delay [in picking] than real damage.” More than three inches fell in northern Sonoma Valley that last week of October, “but then the clouds parted and the sun came out and the fruit dried out” by early November. Despite these optimistic words, Mackey says he’s “withholding judgment” on his Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. “I need to taste and smell it before I can assess it.”

Up in Alexander Valley, Pete Opatz, vineyard manager at Clos du Bois, conceded the late rains caused “some compromise” to late-ripening varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon. “It’s purely the effect of dilution. You can’t avoid that with rain.” But he says his winery had picked 95 percent of all grapes before the rains came. “Zinfandel came off early in Alexander Valley, which is great news since Zin does not like rain,” but he warns that “some Zins were under target in brix,” which means their fruit density may not be great. White wines, however, should be magnificent, Opatz predicts.

After the rains, Mat Garretson, owner of Garretson Wines and an executive at Wild Horse, called the vintage’s overall quality “very good, better than ’97, but not as good as ’99.” What was picked through mid-October should be good, he says. “At the end of October, we had rain, but not a deluge, like they had up north [and further south].” Nonetheless, “We still have some Cabernet [on the vine in early November] and people are hoping against hope it’s rain tolerant.”

Garretson also said he was “hearing from growers who still have Zinfandel [on the vine],” a real problem since Zinfandel clusters are tight. “You’re really courting the chance of rot problems.” But early-ripening varieties, he says, like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah and Roussanne, should be very good.

Brian Babcock, at Babcock Vineyards, says the overall quality in Santa Ynez Valley was “glorious, wonderful.” He picked most of his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay even before the first rainstorm and had 95 percent of the grapes in by the second. In the warmer eastern part of the valley, Babcock says, most of the later-ripening grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, also were picked before the second storm. As for Syrah, “There was quite a bit of it out [on the vine] after the rain, but I don’t know to what degree it was compromised.”

In Santa Maria Valley, Gary Burk, a spokesman for Au Bon Climat, says Pinot Noir should be excellent, but Chardonnay will be “mixed” because of the rains. Much of the white variety still remained to be picked when the late October storm arrived, and its quality will depend on “whether you picked before or after the rains.” He also calls Syrah “a mixed bag.” Warm-climate Syrah was picked before the rains, but cool-climate Syrah, such as that from Bien Nacido vineyard, wasn’t completely picked until November 7. Burk concedes, “We had some botrytis in certain blocks.”

After the rains, McDowell Valley’s Crawford still believed Zinfandels would be excellent, with high sugar and acidity, which he called “weird … usually it’s an inverse relationship.” Chardonnay had “a real good year, above average in overall ripeness.” Syrah had “nice numbers, good acid, pH, sugar.” But “Cabernet will be a little more difficult. They didn’t get as ripe, and then we got the rain. A lot didn’t even get picked.”

Because it is one of California’s coolest growing regions, in late October many grapes remained on the vine, including whites. Smith, at Delicato, said right before the rain that Chardonnay looked “excellent,” with “deep green-straw color and intense tropical-fruit flavors.” Sauvignon Blanc also looked excellent. But Smith says it might be too early to judge Pinot Noirs from the northern parts of Salinas Valley and the foothills on either side, or the full-bodied reds, such as Syrah and Merlot, that are grown in the southern valley. After the rain, Rich Smith, owner of Paraiso Springs and one of the area’s major grape growers, said both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir had been picked before the rains and “are flavorful, with good chemistry, a great start for winemakers.”

As for late-ripening varieties, “We had no problems this year until the rains came.” Some Syrah was affected, but Smith believes rot won’t be a problem because of that variety’s thick skins. As for Cabernet and Merlot, “Some guys are saying it’s starting to break down with mold or rot,” particularly in the southern Salinas Valley.

Mixed results are the order of the day. A May freeze reduced yields in many vineyards, while the early September rains “made the harvest stressful,” says Leon Sobon, of Shenandoah Vineyards and Sobon Estate. By mid-October, when the weather was perfect, about half the crop had been picked, with about 25 percent more expected to be finished by October 25. But the cold rains (and, at higher elevations, snow) that swept in on October 26 threatened late-picked varieties, including Zinfandel, Barbera, and Mourvèdre. Sobon says the best wines at this point look like early-ripening Rhône grapes, such as Syrah and Viognier.
—Steve Heimoff

Despite fire and rain, a record year

For Washington state vintners it’s a “three-peat:” the first vintage of the new millennium is the third in a row to send them scrambling for superlatives.

Despite a 200,000-acre wildfire in June that roared right up to the edges of Red Mountain and threatened several important vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley, (including Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek), Washington’s final harvest numbers are anticipated to come in at a record 81,000 or 82,000 tons. This handily beats the previous high of 71,000 tons set in 1998, though it’s a bit lower than the prediction of 88,500 tons made when harvest commenced in early September. According to Washington Wine Commission Executive Director Steve Burns, “Lower-than-expected yields are being reported throughout the state, but the crop is still a record by far.”

“The Columbia Valley experienced optimum summer growing conditions,” notes Canoe Ridge winemaker John Abbott, who began his crush on September 8, a week or so earlier than normal. However, in some parts of the state, unusually wet, cool weather later in September and early October extended what had been a picture-perfect growing season, and a surprise frost on September 24 nipped some younger leaves in lower sites, though grape quality was not adversely affected.

Jim van Löben Sels, the general manager for Arbor Crest in Spokane, points out that this year’s picking season was six weeks long, about two weeks more than usual. “Our reds gave us some good, long hang time,” he explains. “We achieved the sugar levels we were looking for, and got everything in before the snow, rain and frost hit our vineyards.”

In the Tri-Cities area, John Bookwalter reports “full phenolic maturity on all reds, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon; high sugars with an average reading between 25 and 26 brix, respectable acids and no herbaceousness.” The young wines are “rich and plummy, with black-currant, jammy flavors on most reds.” Overall, he calls it a very well-balanced vintage.

Bob Betz, MW, who is both a vice-president at Stimson Lane and owner of his own boutique winery, Betz Family Cellars, sums it up this way: “It’s still too early to be conclusive, but the best of the batch so far may be Merlots and early-harvested Cabernet Sauvignons. The Merlots are rich, chocolaty and plump. The Cabs have a varietal trueness—pencil lead and cassis—beyond what we’ve seen the past two harvests, though the Cabernet picked out light because of lower set in the spring. For whites, the Riesling seems particularly penetrating and well balanced.”

The state’s other Master of Wine, Columbia winemaker David Lake, feels that “Patience was definitely a virtue in 2000, as the fruit ripened very slowly and, as in 1999, we waited much longer than usual for ripe flavors to develop and for acid levels to soften, although sugars were already high.” Lake likes the extended hang time, which gave full expression of varietal character and terroir. “As a result,” he concludes, “we have wines that are full-bodied, with ripe fruit flavors and fine balancing acidity.”

Charlie Hoppes, now winemaker at Three Rivers Winery, sees some similarities between this vintage and 1998, principally the lower initial acids, which he feels will make the wines very approachable young, though not as ageworthy over the long term. “I would say the Merlot is the highlight of the vintage from our perspective,” he comments. “The wines are already showing black fruit and anise, with extremely concentrated flavors on the palate.”

Over in Walla Walla, Pepper Bridge owner Norm McKibben reports that “Merlot from both Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills Vineyards was the best I have seen come out of the valley. Very big and very dark.” Some unusually cool, wet weather hit the area in late September, and with it the Cabernet harvest suddenly changed from the expected early picking to a relatively late one. As of late November, the Pepper Bridge Cabernet was still in the final stages of malolactic fermentation—”too early to accurately rate the vintage,” says McKibben. “But,” he adds, “under normal conditions, this kind of extended hang time helps the Cab in this valley reach a big flavor profile.”

Canoe Ridge’s Abbott sums it up this way: “We are seeing intense fruit structure, and rich, round wines. It is too early to tell if the reds are better than the whites; everything looks good. Another good year to add to the string of great wines of the 1998 and 1999 vintages.”

For Glen Fiona’s Rusty Figgins it was “the vintage of the decade for Washington Syrah in terms of abundance of color that extracted early, in terms of the depth and diversity of hues—ranging from a shade of fuschia that I have never witnessed before, to the most opaque purple-black that I’ve ever tried to shine a light through.” In fact, he promises that at least one of his 2000 wines will read “Vin Fin de Siecle” at the top of the label, a play on French words that can mean either “End of the Century Wine” or “Fine Wine of the Century.”

For Washington as a whole, 2000 will also be remembered as the first year that wineries picked more red than white winegrapes. Significant new plantings of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah are coming on line, replacing many hundreds of acres of inexpensive white winegrapes such as Chenin Blanc. So there are not only more grapes than ever being harvested, but better grapes, and more valuable grapes as well.
—Paul Gregutt

Another exceptional year —and an exceptionally large yield

Oregon has also enjoyed a superb string of vintages for three years running, though
not necessarily for the same reasons as Washington. Harvests in the two states do not
always match up so closely, as Oregon’s vineyards are almost exclusively located to the west of the Cascade Mountains, while Washington fruit grows in locales in the hotter, dryer eastern half of the state.

When we assess the quality of the Oregon harvest we are first and foremost talking about how the Pinot Noir ripened in Yamhill County. And all indications are that 2000 will be an excellent vintage for Pinotphiles. Unlike 1999, a “miracle vintage” whose cool, wet summer was followed by a sensationally long, dry Indian summer ahead of a late harvest, the spring and summer of 2000 were warm and dry, with mild temperatures and little or no rain through September. Veraison occurred in the second week of August, two weeks earlier than in 1999, allowing uniform development and ripening.

In fact, ripening was so uniform that many wineries were buried in grapes. If there is a common complaint in 2000, it is that everything came in at once. Rex Hill Winery President and winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash calls it the “Sleep Is Overrated” vintage. She held off picking until October 12, and wound up processing over 125 tons of fruit in 48 hours. Despite the harried crush, Penner-Ash says she is “very happy with the wines we currently have in the cellar. We have some wonderful blackberry and cherry notes in the 2000 Pinots; the tannins are lovely, and not showing any hints of coarse, bitter notes from immature seeds.”

Amity’s Myron Redford is also enthusiastic. “The 2000 vintage is three in a row, a home run,” he says. “In my 25 years as a winemaker, I can only think of two other times that we have had three vintages in a row of this quality: 1978, ’79 and ’80; and 1992, ’93 and ’94.”
Steve Vuylsteke of Oak Knoll adds that “Three specifics stick out about this harvest: it started early; second, everything ripened at once with surprisingly high sugar levels and a balance in fruit concentration; finally, it is an exceptional harvest.”

For Archery Summit’s Gary Andrus, the vintage “combines the depth of the 1998 with the sumptuous clarity of fruit that is the hallmark of the 1999 vintage.” He feels confident that “great ripeness and firm tannins will mark the 2000 vintage.”

Since the perfect spring and summer weather produced an unusually large crop, those wineries that took steps to cut down crop size will fare best in 2000. At Archery Summit, for example, the harvest was reduced to as little as 1.8 tons per acre in the young vineyard blocks at Arcus and Red Hills. At Rex Hill, they dropped fruit to one cluster per shoot before veraison and made another pass through the site to make sure no second crop was left on the vine. Chehalem’s Harry Peterson-Nedry did “significant crop-dropping at veraison,” bringing his Pinot harvest down to around 2.3 tons/acre.

At Autumn Wind (soon to become Patricia Green Cellars to reflect new ownership), winemaker Green reports that “the Pinots in barrel are dark, rich, round and on their way toward showing the sites from which they come, to a tee.”

As for white wines, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc all seem to be showing well right out of the tank, with excellent ripeness and natural acidity. Winemakers are enthusiastic about the even ripening of the crop and the purity of the fruit flavors. Redford calls his Pinot Blanc “the best I have ever had” and says that his Gewürztraminer is also one of his best. Though the white wines lack the crisp acidities of 1999, Peterson-Nedry finds them “fleshy, like 1998” and overall “very good.”

Although final totals are not in, the predicted yield of 20,000 tons represents an increase of more than 10 percent over last year’s record total of 17,900 tons. South of the Willamette Valley, in the Umpqua and Rogue Valley viticultural regions, winemakers also are finding “outstanding fruit, high brix and good acidity,” according to the Oregon Wine Advisory Board. For Oregon’s 156 wineries, the millennium is off to a great start.
— P. G.

The Northeast
Unpredictable weather tested the skills of winemakers

Vintners in the Northeast faced some difficulties during the 2000 growing season, but those that were up to the challenge should make solid wines. Spring was warm and wet throughout the region, promoting disease. According to Fox Run’s Peter Bell, “Those growers who didn’t get early, preemptive sprays on in May tended to have problems with mildew later in the season.”

Midsummer brought cooler-than-normal temperatures that slowed ripening considerably. Given the chilly summer, canopy management was more critical than ever this year; producers who have yet to adopt modern trellising systems had trouble getting their grapes to fully ripen. Some marginal sites in the Finger Lakes were even nicked by frost on September 29. Fortunately, October, which saw the bulk of the harvest action this year, was dry and sunny, allowing the region’s top producers to ripen their grapes under Indian summer conditions.

At Inniskillin in Ontario, general manager Philip Dowell reports that the harvest didn’t commence until September 26, the latest in the winery’s 25-year history. At Shalestone vineyards in the Finger Lakes, proprietor Rob Thomas didn’t finish bringing in his red varieties until November 3. Nevertheless, he says, “My red wines have good color, body and, most importantly, ripe flavors, but may be a touch high in acid.”

Bell echoes some of those thoughts: “Winemakers had to be on the ball regarding chaptalization and deacidification, but if those shortcomings were addressed, the wines are nicely balanced and not short on ripe flavors.” Dowell finds similar sugar levels to ’98 and ’99, “but with much higher levels of acidity due to the relative coolness of the year.” He predicts wines with “good structure and aging potential.”
—Joe Czerwinski

Brilliant Bordeaux and balanced Bourgogne blancs lead the way, while southern regions shine

Vintage 2000 is proof, if it were ever needed, that France is a large country, and that climatic conditions and harvest quality can vary widely. The Burgundians, for instance, often complain that a poor harvest in Bordeaux is often interpreted by the rest of the world as a poor harvest in Burgundy as well. This year they must be hoping that the great vintage of Bordeaux will reflect some of its glory onto Burgundy, whose own harvest was marred by rain and hail. In other regions, too, mixed weather brought the inevitable mixed results.

Bordeaux certainly seems to have had the best weather of this year. Experts are already saying that the 2000 vintage is one of the best of the last 50 years, and maybe the equal of the top five of the last century. Already the predictions are that en primeur prices will rise dramatically when they are released next spring.

Jean-Guillaume Prats of Cos d’Estournel compared it to 1986, even to 1961—”an exceptional, complex year.” His words, spoken as the red wines finished their malolactic fermentations in November, have been echoed by some of the region’s top names almost from day one of harvesting. “It’s been a year à la carte. I was able to pick exactly when I wanted. I did not have to worry about the weather,” said Hubert de Boüard de Laforest of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion. “The grapes are very ripe but also dense, which will give us wines with great concentration and power.”

While de Boüard compares his 2000 with his 1982, he makes one further comment. “This year, our technical expertise, both in the vineyard and in the cellar, is so much greater that we are able to make even better wines than we could in 1982.”

Normally reticent wine producers were ecstatic with the quality of the grapes that came into their cellars. In the Médoc, Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux said, “The year 2000 will be a great vintage without doubt. We have started our tastings and can compare it with structured, concentrated vintages like 1986 rather than the softer years like 1990.” Christian Moueix was also very satisfied with the vintage, describing it as “having extraordinary concentration.”

The cause of this euphoria was the weather in August and September. Bordeaux has suffered from a series of years in which rain started mid-September, just as the red grape harvest was in full swing. This year, the sun prevailed in clear, cloudless skies above Bordeaux. For once, even the late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon could be gathered under optimum conditions and in perfect ripeness.

It hadn’t looked like that in July. Chilly conditions that had lasted for two months threatened a repeat of disastrous vintages such as 1992. Yet, by late August, after almost a month of continuous sun, with highs in the 90s, Jean-Bernard Delmas was able to signal the start of the harvest on August 29 when the first Sauvignon Blanc grapes entered the crushers at Château Haut-Brion. Almost simultaneously Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier began harvesting for his legendary white wine. “We stood around the presses as the first juice of the year 2000 came out. It was a moving moment.”

The only downside to the general euphoria in Bordeaux has been in the sweet white-wine regions of Sauternes and Barsac. Here the rains, which had held off for the red wine harvest, came down in October, ruining what had started out as a potentially fine year. For Xavier Planty of Château Guiraud it was an enormous disappointment. “At first, we thought this would be an extraordinary year, and we harvested a third of the crop in excellent conditions,” he says. “But then on October 11, the rain came. So we have a small quantity of fine wine, but the rest is just average.”

It was not an easy year for Burgundy’s wine producers. It is, as my tastings during the Hospices de Beaune auction in November showed, a year for white wines rather than reds. “2000 is an exceptional year for whites,” confirmed Hubert Camus, vice-president of the Burgundy Wine Bureau, who has vines in Gevrey-Chambertin. Reds suffer from light colors and tannins, and are best consumed over the short term rather than aged. The Chardonnay, by contrast, produced ripe, sweet juice and wines with good concentration and balanced acidity.

Throughout the growing season, mildew was a problem. When grape picking began in the southern Mâconnais region, it was among the earliest on record. Harvesting was made more difficult by a huge storm that hit the region on September 12, bringing hail and flash floods to the Côte de Beaune. Worst hit vineyards were in Savigny-lès-Beaune and Aloxe-Corton. Pommard, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet all had heavy rain.

Growers and merchants were relieved that the good, sanitary state of the grapes after crop thinning meant there was not more damage. “We did not lose many grapes,” technical director Jacques Lardière of Maison Louis Jadot was quoted as saying, “perhaps because this year we had very good vegetation and the vines were well protected.”

Burgundy production was higher than legal limits in many areas, despite green harvesting in early August and a legal loophole that allowed 20 percent more grapes than normal to be harvested. This will mean that some wine has to be run off for distillation or simply poured down the drain. High production generally indicates dilute wines, and this is certainly the case with the reds.

In Beaujolais, wines have “good color, are weighty enough, balanced and seem to have good ripe fruit flavors,” according to Denis Santiard of négociant La Reine Pédauque. Burgundians are increasingly concerned that high production will become the norm, due to the greenhouse effect. Forecasters are predicting that Burgundy’s climate will become warmer and wetter, creating a risk of large quantities of wines with low acidity.

The storm that hit Burgundy on September 12 continued northward toward Champagne. It was just the culmination of a series of climatic convulsions that hit France’s northernmost wine region. Wet weather and hailstorms damaged a huge swathe of the Chardonnay vineyards in the Côte des Blancs in July, leaving 30 percent of the vineyard in that area damaged. Mildew was a persistent problem, requiring increased sprayings right through the growing season. August, unlike regions further south, was wet, if warm. Only at harvest time was the weather clement.

Despite these problems, some good wines have come out of the 2000 harvest. Technical know-how at harvest time was essential. “It is a winemaker’s vintage,” reported Terence Kenny of Champagne Pannier, emphasising that good winemaking skills were needed to cope with the problems. At Champagne Deutz, Fabrice Rosset “rejoiced in the good balance of the 2000 wines.”

In the end, quantities were above normal, due to the moist conditions. The authorities in Champagne, who rigorously control quantities available for the market, have insisted that 13 percent of the crop be put into reserve.

Producers are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of bottling vintage 2000 cuvées. “Although it is too early to be definite—we will have to wait until next April—there should be some vintage wines from 2000,” said Rosset.

Harvest 2000 was the first year that new rules governing the production of Alsatian grand cru wines took effect. These regulations reduce yields and demand higher natural sugar levels, in an effort to curb the high production levels that have plagued Alsatian vineyards.

It was a long, slow harvesting period for Alsatian producers, beginning in the second week of September and continuing well into late October and beyond for the late harvest wines. “The Riesling really looked beautiful this year,” said Olivier Humbrecht of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, “and although we had cool days and drizzle just before we picked, I am still content.”

Jean Dirler of Domaine Dirler-Cadé, who began harvesting on September 13, said he was “very pleased with all the different grape varieties. The year has given us dry wines which are fruity and fresh, very typical of Alsace.”

The South
“The harvest took place in perfect conditions, with warm weather right through the picking,” according to Jérémy Arnaud of the wine committee of the Côtes de Provence, the wine region inland from the resorts of the French Riviera. The fine harvest conditions followed unusual weather for the rest of the growing season, with, as in the rest of France, a cold July and a less-than-hot August.

In Languedoc, home of the inexpensive Vin de Pays d’Oc, the weather followed a similar pattern. At Domaine de la Baume, the Australian-owned winery near Béziers, manager Ashley Huntington was content: “I’m pleased—can’t complain. The colors are excellent.”

Growers throughout the region predict concentrated reds, with some excellent Mourvèdre and Syrah. They were able to let the grapes hang and pick them when they were in a good state of physiological ripeness, the current catchphrase to indicate that all the elements in the fruit are in balance.

Comparisons with both 1999 and 1998 are already being made in the Rhône Valley. Alain Dugasse of Château La Nerthe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape likened the 2000 wines to 1999 for elegance and 1998 for concentration. This means that the region in southeastern France has had its third good vintage in a row.

A wet spring set the Rhône off to a poor start. Warm, wet conditions led to early flowering. Then the growing cycle was slowed by cool weather in June and July. However in both northern and southern Rhône vineyards, the sunshine of August and September mitigated the effects of the cool July and allowed growers to harvest in perfect conditions.

For Thierry Boudinaud of négociant Maison Gabriel Meffre, “It has been a relatively easy year to work with. The colors of the reds are bold and the flavors are concentrated.” He compared the wines to 1998 or 1990 in their power.

In the northern Rhône, Jacques Grange of Delas Frères was enthusiastic about the quality of the Syrah grown there. “At the end of the day, it was a very quick harvest. We had to move fast to get in the grapes at the right level of maturity. But all the elements are there to make great Syrah wines: colors, aromas, concentration and structure.”

After early predictions of a good quality harvest, hopes of growers throughout the Loire valley were dashed by rain. By the end of September, when much of the crop, particularly Chenin Blanc in the central Loire, was still on the vines, rain was lashing down, damaging hopes for the rich, sweet dessert wines for which such areas as Vouvray and the Layon Valley are famous.

Hail fell in the Sancerre region, home to Sauvignon Blanc vines, where harvesting began in late September. The early harvesting region of Muscadet escaped much of the rain, and reports suggest a good quality crop.
—Roger Voss

Extreme weather foreshadows powerful reds

Heat was the problem throughout central and southern Italy during the 2000 growing season. Temperatures that soared into the 90s for much of August shut down vines, risked shriveling berries, produced huge sugars in supermature fruit, and left winemakers gasping for breath as they rushed to pick one of the earliest harvests ever. In the north, heavy rains and cool temperatures into late August produced a smaller than usual crop, even though many wines are good.

The effect of extreme weather has been felt in the uneven quality of the Italian harvest. While some regions experienced exceptional harvests, others found that the quality varied from area to area and from grape variety to grape variety.

One of the most successful regions was Piedmont, which enjoyed an unprecedented fifth successive fine harvest. Quantities, though, are down by as much as 20 percent, due to dry weather and a severe green harvest in August. For Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta in Barbaresco, 2000 is the finest of the five. The wines, he said “have both structure and freshness. They will have length, good tannins and lots of fruit.” He and other growers noted that Nebbiolo, historically not ripe until late October, seems ready for harvest earlier and earlier.

In the Veneto and northeastern Italy, it was a better year for white wines than reds. Leonildo Pieropan in Soave described 2000 as an “almost” year: “If it hadn’t been for rain during the harvest of the Garganega grapes [one of the principal grapes of Soave], it could have been a very good year indeed.” Sunshine after the rain meant that growers have been able to harvest a small but excellent crop of grapes for Valpolicella and Amarone.

The weather conditions were most extreme in Tuscany. Unused to such heat in August, growers in Montalcino were astonished to find themselves picking Brunello grapes before September had even begun. The vines in this mountainous region of southern Tuscany almost shut down in the intense heat of August, while in nearby Chianti Classico, some growers took advantage of a new law allowing drip irrigation to keep the grapes ripening normally.

Paolo de Marchi of the Isole e Olena estate in Chianti Classico found sunburned and underripe berries within the same bunch, so extreme was the heat. However, he said that, with careful selection, the reds of 2000 “will rate highly, even if not at the level of 1997.”

The Bolgheri region in coastal Tuscany had its earliest harvest on record; picking of Cabernet Sauvignon finished in early September. For Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, 2000 was an “excellent” year for his Sassicaia. Producers in the rapidly developing Maremma region south of Bolgheri claim that they had a good harvest. “We had good quality and good quantity,” said Adolfo Parentini of Moris Farms. “The Syrah and the Cabernet Sauvignon did particularly well, although we have concerns with the Sangiovese, which had problems for the dry conditions.”

In southern Italy, heat is a more normal accompaniment to a harvest, and the wines—both whites and reds—show great potential. Even here, though, harvesting was earlier than usual. At the Regaleali estate of the Tasca d’Almerita family in the mountains of central Sicily, harvesting started a week early. Conte Lucio Tasca commented on “the high concentration in the Cabernet Sauvignon.” He said the wines are developing big color and fruit.

Local grape varieties such as the late-maturing Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro benefited from the heat. While the dry conditions reduced the harvest in Puglia by 15 percent, the quality of the red and their intense flavors has given the wines “an innate balance,” according to wine consultant Robin Woodhouse. “It will be a fantastic vintage in the south.”

Quality is the reward for those who waited

As with Italy, drought and heat were the main problems growers had to contend with. But on the eastern coast, the harvest in Penedes and Utiel Requena was interrupted by flooding that left vineyards under several inches of water.

The best results this year came from the quality wine regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. The summer heat gave way to cool, cloudy conditions as harvest approached in early October. That meant growers had to pick slowly and carefully to ensure they were getting in grapes that were fully ripe. Those that waited, said Jorge Muga of Bodegas Muga in Rioja, “were able to pick grapes that had reached the desired level of ripeness.”

In Ribera del Duero, Tomás Postigo of Pago de Carroveja said that the grapes were sound and ripe with excellent color. “It could be as good as 1999,” he said. In Catalonia, the growers of Priorat were delighted with the color and intensity of the wines from low-yielding Garnacha vines, which thrive in harsh drought conditions.

Heavy storms reached Spain in late October after much of the harvest in the quality areas was in. The only grapes affected were the late-ripening Bobal in Utiel Requena. This area supplies much of basic Spanish table wine production, little of which is exported.

The main problems this year in Spain have not been with the quality of the harvest, but the significant collapse in grape prices. In Rioja, prices fell by as much as 80 percent during 2000, and similar erosion was recorded in Ribera del Duero. Increased production and a simultaneous increase in bottled wine prices have left cellars in both regions awash with stocks of unsold wines.

High quality, low yields and intrigue

A cold, dry winter in the Douro meant that groundwater supplies were minimal in the early part of the year, limiting budburst and virtually guaranteeing low yields. Then the rains came in April and May, rejuvenating the vines but also resulting in poor fruit set, lessening regional yields still further. According to winemaker David Fonseca Guimaraens of Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca, yields throughout much of the Douro were as much as one-third less than in 1999.

Close to ideal weather took over in June and persisted through much of September, when harvesting in the Douro began around September 20, and lasted until October 10. A passing rainstorm during the harvest hit mostly the Baixo Corgo, missing many of the major quintas located further upriver. Fonseca Guimaraens calls the 2000 Ports “big and full-bodied, with intense color and very dramatic aromas.” Although we won’t know until 2002 whether 2000 will be declared, there’s an obvious commercial reason to declare a 2000 vintage—the appeal of having two-zero-zero-zero on the label.

The combination of low yields and high quality was apparently too much temptation for some unscrupulous grape brokers and growers. The Instituto do Vinho do Porto (IVP) reportedly confiscated tons of grapes that entered the region and were being passed off as Port winegrapes. IVP head Jorge Monteiro alleged that grapes were being brought in from other parts of Portugal and neighboring Spain for sale to Port producers.

Far to the south of the Douro in the Alentejo region, important for the production of table wines, the weather was also cooperative during the harvest. At Quinta do Carmo, winemaker Joachim Roque reports that his team began picking August 28 and ended September 15, with nary a drop of rain to dilute the crop. “The quality of the grapes was excellent—good maturity and good concentration.”

Rains dampen hopes for quality

Vintage 2000 is a year for medium-quality wines in Germany. There will be plenty of Kabinett and Spätlese wines, a few Auslese, but only rare sweeter, richer Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines.

Rain was the culprit, particularly in the Mosel. Until its arrival in September, the harvest looked very promising, and there was every chance some top-quality sweet wines would be made, according to Dirk Richter of Weingut Max Ferd. Richter in the Mosel. “This was a year when careful pruning, green harvesting and very selective picking have produced some elegant, concentrated, aromatic Rieslings,” he said. For Richter, the harvest was continuing into late November, with berries hanging on the vines in anticipation of an ice wine.

Bernhard Breuer, whose family owns vines in the Rheingau at Rudesheim echoed this. “It’s been a year of hard work,” he said. “We have had to select quite a bit. When we selected, in the steep vineyards it’s turned out to be a useful harvest. We have wines with better acidity balance than in the previous two years.”

In the Rheingau, rain in July and August led to mildew in the vines. Growers needed to protect the berries. Wolfgang Schleicher of Schloss Johannisberg reported that the estate is “expecting a good vintage despite the problems.” They were able to pick small quantities of Auslese and Beerenauslese from the vines with “very good results.”

Volumes are down compared to last year throughout Germany. Ernst Loosen, who has vines in the Mosel and in the Rheinpfalz, said that the September weather cut the quantities. “This will be a moderate vintage, not like the large quantities seen last year,” he said.

Volume is down and sweet wines hard to find

This year quantities were down in all the major wine regions of Austria, according to Beate Schmidt of the Austrian Wine Statistic Service.

In general, the harvest was 12 percent smaller than in 1999, with more serious declines in the largest wine region, Lower Austria, and in the smallest, Vienna.

Fortunately, quality was good. The year was generally dry, especially in the summer; there was no frost or hail damage. In the Burgenland vineyard of Weingut Umathum, Josef Umathum was obliged to drip-irrigate the vineyard because of the long dry period in May and June: “We did this to ensure stability in the ripening process of the grapes.”

Because of the dry summer, the harvest started early, especially in the Burgenland. Picking started at the end of August and by September 20, the harvest was finished except for the sweet botrytized wines. The dry weather and lack of essential autumn fogs means there are few sweet wines this year.

Southern Hemisphere
Upbeat reports from Down Under

The sheer size and climatic diversity of Australia make attempts at vintage generalizations ludicrous. But when has that ever stopped us? Here’s a regional wrap up of what transpired Down Under last year.

The Barossa Valley, home to many of Oz-land’s inkiest Shirazes, had a smaller-than-normal crop, the result of a winter drought and cool temperatures at flowering. In neighboring Eden Valley, Stephen Henscke reports crop loads as little as one-third of expected. Fortunately, the weather later in the year turned warm and the actual harvest began early in most parts of the region.

A large storm at the end of February dumped close to four inches of rain in a three-day span on some parts of the Barossa, which actually benefited late-ripening Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon but did no favors to soft-skinned white varieties. Winemakers who picked their whites before the rain are happy with the quality, as are those who waited to bring in the reds.

Coonawarra dodged the February rains that hit the Barossa; thus, although yields were down, quality is said to be exceptional, particularly for Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, which enjoyed the warmer-than-usual summer temperatures. “The reds have dense color, great flavor and slightly firmer tannin structure than is the norm in Coonawarra,” reports Ian Hollick of his eponymous winery.

In the Hunter Valley, home to storied Semillons and Shirazes, vintners witnessed “one of the best vintages on record,” according to Iain Riggs of Brokenwood Wines. Winter rains recharged the groundwater and then the sun came out to stay, resulting in “excellent yields, sugars and fruit flavors,” says Riggs. Both whites and reds should be worth searching for as they slowly make their way into the market.

The Riverland and Riverina areas, prime sources of many of the popularly priced Shirazes, Cabernets and blends, were hit by late-season rains. Doug McWilliam of McWilliam’s Wines says yield was the single largest determining factor: “The big crops that were slow to ripen got caught. We were glad that our crop control, which allowed early maturity, was successful.”

In Western Australia, the weather see-sawed dramatically from October (rainy) to December (unseasonably hot), before settling down and remaining warm and mild through the rest of the growing season. An early March storm threw a scare into growers, but appears to have had little impact on the quality of the fruit brought in. David Hohnen of Cape Mentelle calls the vintage “near perfect.”

New Zealand
Adapting to cool weather, vintners harvest quality

Across the Tasman Sea from the land of Oz, New Zealand vintners faced mixed conditions during the 1999-2000 campaign. In Marlborough, known for its racy Sauvignon Blancs, a warm spring led to early budburst. But then cool, wet weather during flowering cut yields by as much as 30 percent. A long, cool ripening season means that Marlborough “savvies” from 2000 show lots of trademark gooseberry and grapefruit character. Rieslings should also prove stellar. In both cases the problem is that supply may be insufficient to meet growing worldwide demand.

In the other grape-growing regions of New Zealand, the generally cool weather would have had negative consequences in previous years, when vine canopy management was less stringent. But thanks to vertical shoot positioning, shoot-thinning and leaf-plucking, even the Bordeaux-inspired reds of Hawkes Bay seem to have avoided the overly herbal character that has dogged them in past cool years.

Martinborough and Central Otago Pinot Noirs have fared well, based on barrel-tastings conducted in November. For the most part, they show dark, healthy colors, bright fruit aromas and crisp acids. This will not be a fat, low-acid year like ’98, but rather a structured, elegant year for mid-term cellaring.

A harvest of modest quality

Over the past few years Chile has been on a roller coaster with respect to its wine vintages. A quick-glance scorecard of the last four years would read: 2000 (mediocre); 1999 (fabulous); 1998 (poor); and 1997 (incredible). This is worth noting when you consider that Chile is considered to have a consistent climate and little vintage variation, producing formulaic wines. But as of late, that has not been the case. Variety and a lack of predictability have become dual themes for Chilean wine.

In terms of sheer quantity, the 2000 harvest in Chile was a big one—some 25 to 35 percent above average, depending on region. And quality may have suffered. Based on interviews with representatives for a number of Chilean wineries, the consensus is that quantity trumped quality.

The culprit was rain in February and March, the months leading up to and including the early stages of the Southern Hemisphere’s harvest. Heavier-than-average rainfall bloated crops, putting the bulk of the harvest back by a few weeks, and in the end significantly increasing tonnage. “We had a late harvest of high production,” says Claudio Cilveti, export manager for Viña Tarapacá. “It was a difficult harvest, one where we had to work hard to preserve quality. For a long time the sugars were not in balance with the ripeness and tannins, so we had to wait a long time to pick.”

The big yields had a particularly negative effect on the white wines, predominantly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, notes Christian Sotomayor, export director for De Martino’s Santa Ines brand. “An abundance of water made it such that the white wines are not as good as 1999,” says Sotomayor, referring to the previous year’s drought, which managed to produce superior wines.

Because Chile competes on the world stage based on the strength of its value-priced red wines, it remains to be seen whether the vintage will adversely affect the country’s standing in the global wine market, which is only improving (see feature page 56). The 1999 wines, the ones that are on the market now, are as rich and concentrated as any prior vintage in history. The 2000 wines, most of which will begin appearing over the course of the year, won’t have that concentration or the full-fruit character of 1999. Yet expect the supply to be ample. “We are most worried about the next vintage,” says Cilveti. “There will be so much wine in the system that I worry about capacity next year.”

Farther south in Chile, though, the story is brighter. Calina, the winery near Talca that’s wholly owned by Kendall-Jackson, says it avoided the harsh weather that plagued Argentina and, to some extent, the Chilean wineries further north. Because the country’s southern vineyards are cooler and require less irrigation than in the north, they were better able to sustain any natural water that hit. “Yields were back up, thanks to new vineyards and lucky weather. Meanwhile, green dropping [cutting away fruit to improve what remains] and reduced irrigation mean higher quality,” said a K-J spokesman.
—Michael Schachner

Published on February 1, 2001
Topics: Vintages

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