Wine Harvest 2018 Report: From Hailstorms to a ‘Once In a Lifetime’ Haul


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Wine Harvest 2018 Report: From Hailstorms to a ‘Once In a Lifetime’ Haul

Last October, reports of global wine shortages and looming price hikes surfaced after a notably difficult growing season. The production decline affected nearly every region worldwide, though Europe was hit particularly badly, experiencing its worst grape harvest in over 30 years.

This year’s harvest is now all but complete in the Northern Hemisphere, and the emerging reports make for much more positive reading. Here’s what 2018 had in store for some of the most notable regions, and what to expect from this year’s vintage.

FRANCE

Conditions in Bordeaux started out challenging, with rain, humidity, and hail, Wine-Searcher reports. From July onward, however, warm and dry conditions have producers expecting a stellar vintage.

“This year is the best vintage of my life,” Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier tells VinePair.

Alsace experienced one of the earliest harvests in history, Bloomberg reports, with drought rather than rain one of the year’s only worries. Speaking to Bloomberg, Jean-Frederic Hugel of Famille Hugel winery said, “The wines will be rich, with a lot of concentration, and spells of cooler weather maintained bright acidity. And it will be a generous vintage with good production.”

Harvests also started early in Burgundy, where a particularly hot, dry summer alleviated winemakers’ fears after a humid spring. The yield looks set to be relatively large, Decanter reports, with local winemakers like Bernard Boisson of Domaine Boisson-Vadot predicting both “quality and quantity.” Overall production should be around 20 percent greater than other recent vintages.

Unfortunately, in July, hail storms hit the red-wine-producing Côte de Nuits, causing substantial damage. The overall effect of this has not yet been reported.

Growers in Champagne expect similar quality and quantity from this year’s production. Hautvilliers grower Patrick Lopez describes it as a “once in a lifetime” harvest. In an official press release, the Comité Interprofessionel des Vins de Champagne (CIVC) said that temperature and sunlight hours were “well above the 10-year average,” calling this year’s harvest “magnificent.”

In the Loire Valley, the harvest report reads similarly to the rest of France, with lots of sun, little rain, and high temperatures that ripened grapes early. Most winemakers expect a significant increase in production, according to Bloomberg.

Unusually, this year’s harvest started earlier in the cooler, northern part of the Rhône than it did in the south. Harvesting of red grapes started in the first half of September, nearly 10 days prior to previous years. Like many other regions in France, both the northern and southern Rhône will likely have a larger harvest this year.

ITALY

Unlike many European countries in 2017, Italy’s difficulties were brought on by an unusually hot growing season, not by spring frosts or high rainfall. This year saw a return to more normalized temperatures, though rain proved to be a problem in many regions of the country.

In Piedmont, hail storms damaged Nebbiolo-producing Barbaresco. May and June showers in both Barbaresco and Barolo left organic growers at risk of fungal disease. In Tuscany, meanwhile, afternoon thunderstorms were common in July and August, though the weather dried up just in time for harvest.

Further south, in Campania, rain was once again a major issue, especially in white-wine-producing regions Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino.

Antonio Capalado, owner of Feudi di San Gregorio told Wine-Searcher, “We experienced heavy rain (and, unfortunately, hailstorms) in both areas. Particularly in Greco, some areas were seriously impacted and quantity decreased heavily — in line with past year but 40 percent to 50 percent below average. In Fiano, we will have an increase in quantity versus last year, but we remain below average.”

Despite heavy rainfall, Italy’s farmers’ union Coldiretti is forecasting a 15 percent rise in production this year, up from 4 billion to 4.6 billion liters, Wine Enthusiast reports.

SPAIN

At the time of publishing, the harvest is still going on in many regions of Spain. In northern Spain, from Galicia through Ribera del Duero to Rioja, harvest temperatures have so far been relatively cool, Victor Urrutia, CEO of Spanish winery CVNE, says.

With rain in spring and early summer, and some during harvest season, bouts of mildew have reduced yields for some producers. “[It’s] a harvest where selection is proving key,” Urrutia says. In Rioja, he expects wines to be lighter and lower in alcohol than previous vintages that suffered from drought.

U.S.A.

California’s 2017 vintage was marked by devastating wildfires that hit the northern part of the state, including Napa and Sonoma. This year, growers and winemakers were thankful for a return to positive growing conditions and an uneventful but fruitful vintage. In both Napa and Sonoma, the ripening period didn’t have extreme heat, allowing extended hang times and even ripening.

Taste California Travel collected thoughts on the season from a number of winemakers and grape growers. Kelly Macleod of Hudson Vineyards (located in Napa Valley’s Carneros District) called 2018 “a winemaker’s dream.” Sam Kaplan, winemaker and vineyard manager of Arkenstone Vineyards (Howell Mountain, Napa Valley), called the quality of this year’s fruit “fantastic” and said that now-fermenting white wines are already showing “great fruit expression.” Grape grower Pete Richmond of the Silverado Farming Company described 2018 as “about as picture-perfect as you would hope for.”

In the Pacific Northwest, Wines and Vines reports an “above-average” grape crop, with some of the best yields coming from Washington State and Oregon. Both are currently on course for record-breaking harvests.

While West Coast regions enjoyed favorable growing seasons and harvests, conditions were more difficult on the East Coast. New York’s Finger Lakes region experienced a wetter-than-average growing season. Elevated rainfall and humidity led to difficulties with rot. Despite these challenges, analysts expect average yields, though winemakers started picking grapes slightly early to avoid getting hit with more rain.

GERMANY

The 2018 harvest is set to be a “truly outstanding vintage,” Wines of Germany reports, despite one of the warmest summers on record with some cases of extreme drought.

Statistics released by the German Wine Institute predict a 23 percent rise on the 10-year average of 8.8 million hectolitres, making 2018 the largest harvest since 1999. The estimated increases vary by region, ranging from 5 percent in Saale-Unstrut (the northernmost of Germany’s wine regions), to 36 percent in the Mosel, and up to 64 percent in the Mittelrhein.

AUSTRIA

Like Germany, Austria’s 2018 vintage was one of extreme heat and drought. The warmer-than-average conditions will likely lead to higher alcohol levels and a drop in acidity for this year’s wines, Austrian Viticultural Association President Johannes Schmuckenschlager said.

“Volume will, in any event, be just above average; we are looking forward to a harvest in the magnitude of some 2.6 million hectoliters,” he adds.

The harvest was also one of the earliest in decades, with good volume and very good quality expected from the Niederösterreich/Wien, Burgenland, and Steiermark regions.

PORTUGAL

This year saw an “atypical” growing season in Portugal, marked by a very rainy spring, Filipa Anunciação of Wines of Portugal tells VinePair.

The impact was greatest in the northern regions, where increased rainfall and relatively high humidity caused strong attacks of mildew. Scalding temperatures during August caused further losses, especially in the center and south.

The difficulties look set to cause an overall decline in production (between 15 and 20 percent), Anunciação says, “but the quality of the wine is expected to be very good.”

ENGLAND

The stars aligned for English wine producers during the 2018 vintage, called a “record year” by Drinks Business.

The growing season started with a late-February cold weather system, dubbed “the Beast from the East,” which delayed bud burst, protecting vineyards from early frost damage. A prolonged hot summer followed, with little rainfall before harvest, enabling grapes to fully ripen in the vineyard before picking.

“We’ve waited 30 years for this vintage which I have no doubt will be a benchmark for years to come,” Bob Lindo, owner of Camel Valley in Cornwall, says. “There is huge potential and it’s a joy to work through.”

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