October 18, 2019, was a banner wine day in Germany for more than one reason. It was the date by which many wineries expected to finish the 2019 harvest. And it was the day that the natural stress of harvest could shift to a focus on the anxiety of figuring out how to deal with new U.S. tariffs. All healthy grapes (except those purposely left to hang on the vine longer to make luscious sweet Rieslings) were moving as quickly as possible into the vinification process to beat a chilly October rain.
A 12-day curated learning journey October 9-21 through six of thirteen anbaugebiete (regions) — Pfalz (Palatinate), Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Mosel, Nahe, and Baden — offered a sneak preview of the 2019 vintage. Broadly speaking, despite extreme summer heat causing sunburned berries, and periods of rain causing rot in the same bunches, winemakers anticipate that the 2019 vintage will be of excellent quality.
However, 2019 will be much smaller than the prolific 2018 vintage. Vineyard management was critical throughout 2019. Some wineries lost as much as 60% of their crop, opting for aggressive canopy management and pre-harvest selection in order to preserve the quality of the remaining fruit. Over a roughly six-week harvest period, pickers made as many as fifteen passes through each vineyard plot to drop remaining sunburned and rotting berries and to carefully collect fresh, ripe fruit. Sorting tables were perhaps the most important winery machines this year.
As we arrived in the Pfalz on October 9, harvest was mostly completed. It is in general warmer, and lower altitude, than other regions because of its southern location. By the time we circled back to Baden on October 21, harvest was safely finished and winery operations were in full swing. As a side note, a short visit to Alsace in the middle of the trip revealed that harvest had already finished there as well. Southern Pfalz, middle Alsace, and northern Baden make a neat climactic triangle protected (mostly) by the rain shadow of the Vosges Mountains.
Stepping back one year to the 2018 vintage, growing conditions were excellent even with some weather volatility shifting between warm and hot days. As we tasted through 190 wines in Germany and 70 wines in Alsace — the majority of them 2018s, but also some amazing older vintages from 2012-17. Winemakers from all six regions compared the 2018 vintage to the quality of 2003 and the juicy warmth of 2012 and 2015. In other words, an exceptional vintage. The 2018s are in the market now. Drink up and enjoy!!