Industry

2014 harvest: Europe at a glance

By Gabriel Stone October 27, 2014
The drinks business
As Europe brings its 2014 harvest to a close, few of the key wine regions appear to have escaped the unsettled weather conditions that look set to characterise this vintage.

For some, an Indian summer brought miraculous salvation for a vintage that appeared doomed as late as August. For others, the rain arrived at just the wrong moment, with results dependent on the reaction of individual winemakers.

On a national level, the big picture from 2014 has been the bounceback from France, where overall production rose by 10% on last year. This allowed the country to reclaim the number one global production spot from Italy, which was forced to endure particularly wet conditions.

Read on for a round up of what to expect from Europe in 2014.

In Champagne, a disappointingly wet summer was salvaged by warm, dry conditions in September. However, a number of producers, such as Bruno Paillard and Veuve Clicquot reported that Chardonnay had weathered the conditions better than the thin skinned Pinot Noir.

Declaring himself "happy" with the quality potential at this stage, GH Mumm chef de cave Didier Mariotti suggested that 2014 "looks fairly similar to the 2008 vintage in terms of ripeness and acidity levels."

For Bordeaux, a region eager for good news after a trio of underwhelming vintages, 2014's fortunes appear to have been transformed by a burst of warm weather during September and early October.

Summarizing his feelings as "both relieved and satisfied", Dourthe CEO Patrick Jestin predicted "a really good vintage for the reds which wouldn't have been possible without an Indian summer". Meanwhile consultant Denis Dubourdieu pointed to "a rare and interesting vintage".

In Burgundy a warm spring meant the growing season went off to a flying start, with some vineyards two weeks ahead of their normal development. Hopes for a bumper crop to replenish recent shortfalls were dealt a blow by a severe hailstorm at the end of June, which hit Pommard, Volnay and Beaune particularly hard.

For those producers who remained unscathed by hail, the final story was a positive one. "It's going to be a good harvest - the weather was great," said Charles Lachaux of Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, who pointed to the likelihood of "a fresh easy-drinking vintage."

Reporting from the Rhône, regional specialist John Livingstone-Learmonth indicated that in general the north had fared better than the south, where cooler conditions caused "stubborn ripening" for Grenache and producers reported the need for rigorous sorting of grapes.

In the Northern Rhône, heavy rainfall hit Cornas in particular during the third week of September, causing problems for those producers who were still harvesting then.

For all the challenges faced by French regions this year, other countries had much more severe weather conditions to tackle. Wet weather across much of the country saw Italy report significant declines in production, especially in its far northern and southern regions.

It was not all bad news for quality however as Stefano Girelli, owner of Sicilian estate Feudo di Santa Tresa, hailed "an exceptional year for Sicily". In his view, "the reds have a perfect balance of fruit, alcohol and tannins. The whites really are stunning - the cooler conditions have resulted in higher than average acidity - they are excellent."

The Douro was another region hit by dramatic rainfall, which caused severe soil erosion in many parts of this steep valley and left many producers facing an unsettled end to a challenging year.

Nevertheless, Paul Symington, joint managing director of Symington Family Estates maintained: "those winemakers lucky enough to be able to get grapes from various locations across the Douro will certainly have made some brilliant Ports and wines. It was a year to take full advantage of judicious vineyard investment in the best sub-regions."

While Spain as a whole is expected by the OIV to return back to average after last year's record high, Rioja's consejo was predicting a bumper final harvest of 434m kilograms of grapes, compared to 368m kg in 2014.

Although the region was hit by "unfavourable" weather conditions in the final part of the harvest, which brought problems with rot, the DOCa maintained that both quality and quantity were set to remain higher than previous two years.

Despite periods of heavy rain, there were positive reports from Germany both in terms of quality and quantity. The OIV recorded that the country's overall volume of production is set to rise by 16%, while the German Wine Institute reported "overall satisfaction with the quality of the harvested fruit."