Austria’s Wine Harvest – Good, Better, 2015

Finally! Following the problematic and intensively demanding 2014 vintage, 2015 brought happy faces to the Austrian winegrower population. A lovely springtime and for the most part good blossoming led into a summer that then offered some surprises. Hot days and nights were cause for concern, but then in mid-August the rains came, imparting adequate moisture in most districts. The last period of heat at the end of August helped the vines to attain a satisfying degree of ripeness; nights had already become cooler, exerting a positive influence upon the development of aromatics. Very good weather conditions in autumn permitted a rather ‘relaxed’ harvest – in the sense of being free from anxiety – with no deadlines being set by menacing clouds approaching on the horizon. The summer heat did leave its mark upon the grapes, and kept oenologues on their toes, since they were obliged to address some ticklish challenges during vinification and fermentation. What ultimately counts, however, is success – this is clearly evident in the lovely fruit-driven aromatics and varietal typicity that the evolving wines are already showing. The vintage picture promises moderate acidity with mostly robust alcohol levels, serving to reinforce the fullbodied character of the wines.

Niederösterreich (Lower Austria)
In ‘Lower Austria’, growers enjoyed a very easy and unconstrained vintage, compared with the previous year. The mild winter and lovely springtime resulted in a very fine blossoming. Then came the summer heat, but this was punctuated at the end of August by just enough rainfall. The resultant high quality of the grapes almost leads one to forget that a hailstorm first week in May wiped out 3,000 hectares in Wagram, Kremstal and Kamptal. Anticipation of high quality, though, permitted the National Wine Committee to raise the permitted maximum harvest yield for Qualitätswein by 1,800 kg/ha upon application. This allowed estates affected by the hail to purchase grapes of sufficient quality that the damage could be mitigated to a degree. The 2015 harvest started relatively early, which enabled grape growers to receive good prices. Everything considered, nearly all of the harvest arrived at the cellars in good shape this year, healthy and fully ripe – it had been a long time since the wines exuded such inviting aromas already during fermentation. With only a couple of small exceptions there were no undesirable developments or problematic fermentations, and these could be effectively addressed. And thanks to this year’s exception permitting acidification, microbiologic stability could be managed, helpful with the early-ripening varieties. All in all, the growers of Niederösterreich will long remember the 2015 vintage for the quality of material as well as for the relative ease in terms of work demanded.

Weather conditions were like those in Niederösterreich, with the welcome difference that the catastrophic hailstorms stayed clear of Burgenland. Here development and ripening were in line with the other Austrian federal states, with high sugar gradations expected thanks to the solid health of the grapes. Due to extreme heat in the subregion Seewinkel, heightened ripeness is a given, but lower acidity levels and high pH values have demanded more vigilance in the cellar to make certain that nothing goes awry. The processes of alcoholic and malolactic fermentation were occasionally quirky, even for growers with decades of experience. The result of this year’s exertions? Fruit-forward, varietally expressive and fullbodied wines. The moderate acidity is welcome today from the international perspective, and the sometimes generous alcohol levels are on one hand a calling card of the ‘15 vintage – on the other providing a stabilising factor in matters of cellaring and longevity. So 2015 holds great expectations for the red wines – so interesting for their very intensity, that one would perhaps wish to tuck away a bottle or two for the long term.

Steiermark (Styria)
A single hailstorm caused fruit loss of some 25–30%, but ultimately posed no problem to the quality of the remaining clusters, since it came very early in the growing season. A widely varied time-span in the onset of blossoming led to a similar difference in harvest dates. Thanks to the high quality and ripeness of the grapes, somewhat higher alcohol values are indicated – we can look forward to a powerful vintage. The first Muskatellers can already point to an intrinsically higher standard of quality than was possible with everybody’s best efforts last year. Contrary to expectations some 10% less Welschriesling was harvested, but lovers of Styrian wine can still be glad over abundant quantities of Muskateller and Morillon/Chardonnay. Looking at the big picture, it is clear that 2015 in the growing region Steiermark will be noteworthy – not so much for a large harvest – but for its high quality.

Wien (Vienna)
The vineyards in the nation’s capital city were able to work through light hail damage and the summer drought, so that even despite a bit of dropped fruit at blossom time, the quantity of grapes harvested is in line with the average for recent years. Despite apprehensive expectations, the growers could be satisfied with a good volume of juice. Summer’s effects on the grape-must supply also influenced the fermentations in Vienna, demanding increased vigilance and possible remedial measures. The fruits of these labours were already evident at the first presentations at the end of October: the Junger Wiener – the nouveaux wines of Vienna – were already putting their best fruit forward, pleasantly drinkable and allowing a foretaste of a ripe vintage.