The 2020 grape harvest has come in, and the Alto Adige wine industry has its first results that are turning out thoroughly positive. In spite of early blossoming that was possibly record-breaking and several phases of poor weather, the 2020 vintage is promising for winegrowers and winemakers. “The challenges this year were especially great, but our measures for quality came through,” said Maximilian Niedermayr, president of the Consortium of Alto Adige Wine.
The grape harvest began in Alto Adige in the first days of September, which is eight to ten days earlier than in other years. In meteorological terms, it was a reflection of the entire season: as early as the maturation phase, it rained again and again, and a few days before the harvest there were thunderstorms throughout the province and even hail. “If such extreme events destroy the work of an entire year in a matter of a few minutes, that’s hard for the winegrowers to cope with,” Niedermayr explained.
The Weather? A Roller Coaster
The hailstorms and heavy rain at the end of August were, however, only two extremes in a challenging year in terms of weather for Alto Adige’s winegrowers. The winter and spring, for instance, were like a meteorological roller coaster. So, a winter that was unusually warm and then, above all in February, nearly spring-like and exceptionally dry was followed by a cool, rainy March. In some locations, growers even had to combat a cold spell at the end of the month with frost protection measures. March being too cold caused the sprouting in the vineyards that were observed by the Laimburg Provincial Research Center to take place considerably later than in the ten-year average.
But it was possible for this lag to be made up for in April and May. Both months were unusually warm, and with mostly radiant sunshine, the rain also stayed away. In April, only half of the usual precipitation was recorded, and for May around two thirds. Sun, high temperatures, and dryness provided a possible record-breaking early blossoming, which in the early maturing areas of the Adige Valley and the Bassa Atesina began around May 10. “That was one of the earliest blossomings that has even been observed,” said Barbara Raifer, who is responsible for the winegrowing department at the Laimburg Provincial Research Center.
A Midsummer Breather
March too cool and wet, April too warm and dry, the blossoms earlier than average: these were not the only challenges this year for winegrowers. Two periods of bad weather in mid-May and the first half of June – with precipitation this month at 110.4 mm, that was considerably higher than the average over many years of 86.1 mm – resulted in high infection pressure to fungal diseases in many vineyards, above all from Peronospora. “But winegrowers were able to master the situation with considerable efforts together with the advisory institutions,” said Hansjörg Hafner, head of the winegrowing department at the Alto Adige Fruitgrowing and Winegrowing Consulting Center.
But there was a breather in midsummer in which the heat remained to a large extent up to the last few days of July, while the nights were consistently pleasantly cool and the rain, while frequent, fell for the most part less abundantly. The result of all of that was a grape harvest that began eight to ten days earlier than usual. Thus, in the lower elevation and early maturing areas, the harvest already began in late August, and it was followed in most of Alto Adige’s winegrowing locations in the first days of September.
But the growers also could not breathe easy during the harvest. “The rain kept coming in between again and again,” said Hafner. For that reason, the alcohol content this year will also be lower than in past years. “So, the wines will turn out to be less full, but for that reason fruitier and more elegant,” said the winegrowing expert.
Targeted Yield Control
In terms of quantities of this year’s vintage, after the ups and downs with the weather over the entire vegetation period, it will be an average one. “That primarily has to do with the fact that for years now – and this year even more so because of the sales difficulties due to the Covid situation – we have been controlling the quantities of grapes with targeted measures,” said Consortium President Niedermayr. “This control is a central pillar of our quality policy and helps us to permanently establish Alto Adige wine in the premium segment,” Niedermayr added. And especially this year, with its adverse weather, the additional limiting of the grape yield helped quality even more.
The significance of the reduction of yields was also confirmed by Hans Terzer, winemaker at San Michele-Appiano and president of the Alto Adige Winemakers. “With thinning and the cutting of grapes, we were able to reduce the really good crop to the ideal quantities,” he explained. At the same time, the grapes at higher locations had very loose berries this year because of the non-ideal weather during the blossoming. “That automatically reduces the yield and fosters quality,” said Terzer, who indicated his satisfaction with both quality and quantity this year.
Interesting Reds, Flavorful Whites
A similar report also comes from Stephan Filippi, winemaker at the Bolzano Winery and vice president of the Italian Association of Oenologists. Just a few weeks before the harvest, it was specifically the white varieties that presented themselves “especially at the higher locations as very healthy, clear, and flavorful.” Even though the lovely weather that was hoped for did not appear, the lower alcohol content would in any case provide for a fruitiness from which the white wines could only profit. With the red varieties, there are great expectations above all else for Pinot Noir and Lagrein, while for the Schiava (Vernatsch), the 2020 should be a somewhat smaller yet elegant vintage. “In any case, 2020 will be a very interesting vintage for red wines,” said Filippi.
After a challenging year and the figurative drops of bitterness from hail, thunderstorms, and rain around the harvest, the winemakers and winegrowers of Alto Adige are nevertheless looking forward to a promising 2020 vintage in terms of quality.