Throughout Argentina the reports are of a high quality vintage in 2019. After a cold winter that delayed bud burst, the spring was cool and humid, with some heavy rain in November. However, the rest of the summer and autumn was dry.
Crucially though temperatures never raced away and the vines were able to steadily ripen their grapes without heat stress. The dryness, and the absence of significant hailstorms, meant that the fruit was beautifully healthy. High luminosity and just enough warmth in February and March brought the grapes to optimum ripeness. The national crop was 10% down on 2018 but almost exactly in line with the five year average.
There was plenty of anxiety in the Australian wine industry during the 2018/2019 growing season. It was the second dry year in a row. There were record low temperatures in the spring and an extended heatwave in the run up to the harvest. Areas such as the Barossa did see yields reduced, but when the harvest was completed it turns out that the 2019 crop was only fractionally down on 2018 (-3%) and pretty much bang in line with the five year average. The hot dry end to summer seems to have favoured red wines over whites, both in terms of quantity and quality. The average grape price in Australia continues to rise, reaching Aus$664 per tonne (up 9% on the previous year).
The winter and early spring in Austria were very dry and unseasonably mild. There was an early bud burst but to everyone’s relief there were no frost losses. Mother Nature then threw in a May that was the coldest since 1991. The development of the vines ground to a halt and it took a record breaking June (the driest, sunniest and warmest of all time) to get them going again. The flowering went well.
The summer was hot with temperatures in both July and August above average. Occasional thundery downpours brought much needed water to the vineyards. Conditions stayed fine in September and October, although thankfully the heat dissipated. There was no need to rush the picking and the grapes were nigh on perfect as they arrived at the wineries. Quality is high. The overall crop was a smidgeon down on 2018 (-4%) but robustly up against the five year average (+15%).
The winter and early spring were drier than normal, with 30% less rainfall than in the equivalent period the year before. There were no frosts in the spring and the dry conditions kept fungal diseases at bay. The summer was bracketed by heatwaves in November and February, with normal temperatures prevailing the rest of the time.
Picking started in February but cooler weather in March eased the pressure and the last Carmenere was not gathered until the start of May. Francisco Baettig of Errázuriz describes the company’s vineyards in 2019 as having delivered, “grapes of outstanding sanitary conditions [sic] and great concentration.” At a national level the vintage was 7% down on the bumper 2018 crop, but still 8% up against the five year average.
Although the terrifying post-vintage wildfires in Sonoma at the end of October grabbed the headlines, up to that point the 2019 growing season had been remarkably calm by Californian standards. The winter had seen heavy rainfall and the spring was also wet and cool. Most of the summer saw temperatures on the mild side. The vegetative cycle tracked a week or more behind the average of recent years.
Fine conditions in September and October were perfect for the picking. The premium producers are delighted with the quality of their wines – the cool summer allowed for long hang times, giving the grapes time to develop flavour ripeness without sacrificing acidity or accumulating too much sugar. The USDA’s crop report has the size of the 2019 harvest pretty much bang in line with both 2018 and the historical average.
A wet cold start to the year but only a small amount of localised frost and hail at the start of May meant losses were minuscule compared to what happened in 2017. After such a wet and dismal six months to everyone’s relief the conditions rapidly improved in May. The weather got better and better with plenty of sun, high temperatures and hardly any rain. Picking started on 20th August, something that in the past would have been thought exceptional but in the last fifteen years there have been five harvests beginning in August. With the fruit in perfect health and the weather still benign the vintage was unhurried. Christophe Pitois at Champagne Lombard seems very happy with the outcome of the harvest, noting the exceptional level of maturity in the grapes. The total crop in the region was up 56% on 2017 and a stonking 39% up on the five year average.
After the huge, early and super ripe vintage in 2018 the growers in England are reporting a much more normal harvest in 2019. Although there was very little spring frost and no significant flowering problems, the vines naturally set a smaller crop than the year before. The ripening cycle was also a little later than it had been twelve months ago.
The first three weeks of September had lovely late summer weather and the grapes ripened quickly. It is probably fair to say that the season’s biggest challenge came after the weekend of 21st/22nd September when the autumn equinox brought cooler and wetter conditions. The estates had to schedule the picking carefully, trying to optimise the ripeness of the grapes, whilst keeping an eye on any botrytis, and dodging the rain. Quality overall seems to be pretty good, with more freshness in the wines than in 2018. As to yields, most people seem relieved to have avoided a second bumper sized crop in a row.
A mild winter was followed by a dreary spring. Bud burst was early but frost losses were insignificant. Twenty nineteen was a dry year but unfortunately one of the major downpours occurred during the flowering: this reduced the potential size of the crop. The summer was hot. Disease pressure was low but water stress was high. Any hail losses were localised. Picking started at the end of August. Conditions were glorious until 22nd September, after which there was intermittent rain and it became cooler. However, the harvest does not seem to have been disrupted and pretty much everything was picked by the middle of October. Quality, for both reds and dry whites, is said to be very good. The total crop was only fractionally down on 2018 (-4%) and similarly down against the five year average (-3%).
After a bumper crop the previous year, Burgundy was brought down to earth by some challenging weather in 2019. The winter had been warm and dry but April was distinctly frosty, with losses from Chablis in the north to Beaujolais in the south. Wet conditions in June at the time of flowering had an even larger impact on potential yields. Hot and dry summer weather, culminating in a heatwave in July, further reduced the size of the grapes. In the end the harvest was a whopping 27% down on 2018, and still down a worrying 12% against the five year average. The good news from a quality perspective is that the late summer was nigh on perfect. The picking started in early September and although some rain arrived on the 22nd of the month, most growers seem happy with the calibre of what they harvested.
It seems that Alsace dodged the spring frost losses of Burgundy but was caught by the poor weather during flowering. From a commercial perspective it is unfortunate that Gewurztraminer was the worst affected variety, with extensive coulure and millerandage. The summer drought caused a further drop in yield. No dramas were reported at harvest time. The total crop is reported to be 22% down on 2018 and 8% down against the five year average. However, prices are reported to be stable courtesy of a lot of 2018 wine remaining unsold.
After a dry winter and a bud burst at the end of March, a succession of frosts in the first half of April inflicted huge damage in the western half of the Loire Valley. The Pays Nantais (home of Muscadet), Anjou-Saumur and the red wine part of Touraine saw some vineyards lose up to 80% of their potential crop. The eastern part of Touraine and the Central Vineyards (largely Sauvignon Blanc territory) were untouched. The Loire dodged the flowering problems that afflicted most of the rest of France but was not spared the consequences of the searing heat and drought of summer. A significant proportion of the crop “evaporated.” Fine weather for the picking in September ensured that the quality of the grapes was very good. However, yields were low: the harvest was down 27% on 2018 and down 7% against the five year average.
RHÔNE & PROVENCE
The Rhône Valley avoided the spring frost and problematic flowering that affected less fortunate parts of France. The region did not get away entirely scot free: a severe hailstorm on 16th June hit Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph, resulting in losses of 50% and 10% respectively. The summer was hot and dry but by and large the vines coped well. There was no disease pressure and the fruit ripened steadily. The concentrated bunches were picked in September under ideal conditions. It looks like another top quality vintage. The Rhône was the only major region in France to buck the trend and produce more wine in 2019 (+5%) than in 2018. Against the five year average the crop was 1% down. In Provence the drought seems to have impaired the yields slightly more.
There were some localised spring frost losses but the flowering passed without any major disruption. The big problem was the searing heat and drought of summer. A shortfall of rainfall earlier in the year meant that many vines just could not cope with the transpiration. Leaf loss, sunburnt fruit and actual vine death were widespread. Estimated yields fell sharply. As is usual nowadays, the harvest started in August with the white grapes. Many growers report picking a little later than in the previous two vintages. Rain on 10th and 22nd September reinvigorated the vines and may well have helped the later maturing black grape varieties complete their ripening. With no disease around and plenty of summer warmth, quality should not be an issue. The official pre-harvest estimate had the 2019 crop down 6% on 2018 and down 4% against the five year average.
There were spring frost losses in 2019 but flowering issues do not seem to have been a significant factor. What did cause major yield reductions was the summer heatwave. The vines took a pummelling in June and July. Temperatures eased off in August and the grapes ripened quickly. Taittinger started picking in the Côte des Bars on 6th September. With so little humidity around the grapes were pretty much disease free. The winemakers seem very happy with the base wines. The total crop in Champagne was 26% down on 2018. However, compared to the five year average, the harvest was only down 4%. The good news is that the Champagne region is sitting on healthy reserves of wine (which were swelled by the bumper 2018 vintage).
After a dry winter, spring was late in coming and the growing season got off to a slow start. There was localised frost damage, particularly in the Mosel, but ultimately this seems to have had less impact on the total crop than was feared at the time. The flowering appears to have passed without incident. July and August were dry and brought record high temperatures. Water stress and sunburn were issues in some vineyards. The first three weeks in September were glorious and the grapes ripened quickly. A little picking got underway. The weather changed dramatically on 23rd September with the arrival of heavy rain. The pace of harvesting accelerated and most of the grapes had been gathered by 7th October. The overall quality should be good, although one cannot but reflect on what might have been had the weather not turned so suddenly in September. The preliminary estimates from the German Wine Institute (DWI) have the 2019 crop down 17% versus the bumper harvest in 2018, and down a much more modest 2% against the ten year average.
Italy avoided the frost losses that affected parts of France but the spring was cool and grey, resulting in a delayed start to the growing season. Poor weather during the flowering did reduce the potential yield of some grape varieties. Summer when it finally arrived was remorselessly hot. These sustained high temperatures, combined with the flowering issues, were responsible for the smaller crop in 2019 compared to 2018 (-15%) and against the five year average (-4%). Quality appears to be strong across the board. The growing season was largely disease free. Picking started a little later than usual, when conditions were cooler, and was unhurried.
It was an exceptional vintage in New Zealand. In the words of Gordon Russell at Esk Valley, “I can without hesitation put this 2019 harvest amongst the finest I have experienced.” After some cool and wet weather at the flowering the summer and autumn were nigh-on perfect: dry, plenty of sunshine, with temperatures that were warm but not impossibly hot. An unhurried harvest of healthy grapes took place between February and April. Despite the poor conditions for the flowering the crop was satisfactory: down 1% on 2018 but up 2% against the five year average.
Portugal bucked the trend in 2019 and recorded a vintage that was larger than both 2018 (+10%) and the five year average (+4%). Given that 2019 was another dry year the question arises as to how this could happen? Well firstly, there were no reports of frost or flowering problems early in the season. Secondly, in stark contrast to most of Europe, the summer was cooler than normal. Finally, a little rain at the end of August unblocked the ripening and allowed the grapes to swell. Fine weather in September and October permitted the picking to take place slowly and selectively. As a result, quality is high.
To everyone’s relief, after three years of drought the winter brought plentiful rain to the Cape. Hopes of a bumper harvest were dashed by chaotic spring weather, the flowering being disrupted by alternating episodes of cold and heat. The summer was surprisingly mild until February ushered in a heatwave that accelerated the ripening. The picking started under ideal conditions but an extended wet interlude in March posed challenges with the later ripening varieties. Nevertheless, overall quality is good. The total crop is up on 2018 (+3%) but is still well below the five year average (-9%).
Spain experienced a second small harvest in three years (2017 was the other one). The OIV estimate has wine volume in 2019 down 24% versus 2018 and down 12% against the five year average. The reduced crop in Spain can be attributed to two phenomena. The first, and probably the most significant one, was the lack of moisture. During the first eight months of the year there was only 150mm of rain in central Spain, half what would normally be expected.
The irony for the growers in south-eastern La Mancha and Valencia was that when the drought finally ended in mid September there was a deluge that flooded the vineyards and disrupted the picking. The second issue was cold weather during flowering: coulure and millerandage affected varieties such as Chardonnay. In 2019 the contrast between these commodity focused regions in central/southern Spain and the premium areas of the north could not be most pronounced. Rioja seems to have had an exceptional vintage (healthy grapes that were small and part of compact clusters). Over in Rías Baixas the message is also positive, with an unhurried harvest of healthy grapes resulting in fresh and aromatic wines.