Difficult weather caused a lot of anxiety and work for wine growers throughout central Europe in 2013 and Germany was no exception.
The reports from most regions sound similar: A late and very cold winter, late and too cold a spring, which lasted into the beginning of summer and then a sudden jump to hot and dry. Though some villages in the central part oft he Mosel were badly hit by hail in the last week of June, the majority of the German wine regions did not suffer significant damage by hail, a blessing in an otherwise difficult growing season.
Gray skies and cool temperatures in May and June delayed flowering and the progress in the vineyards altogether was precariously slow in the period from April through the third week of June. Then hot and dry weather changed the situation for the better and until the beginning of September the vineyards had made up much of the delay caused by the slow growth. Cool and wet weather returned in mid September and with time, the difference between well and not so well maintained vineyards began to show. Courtesy of all the moisture, botrytis set in on a grand scale at the end of September/early October, forcing most growers to start their harvest earlier than planned. The weather did not improve, necessitating more efforts and speed to bring in the crop. Machine harvesting faced difficulties because the heavy equipment often got stalled in soft, boggy underground of sloping or flat vineyards, causing a good number of “machine” producers to switch to hand harvesting which was difficult because of a limited work force.
The good news is that throughout Germany, the quality was generally good. Crop loads, however, varied greatly between the regions. In total, the 2013 German harvest of roughly 8.3 million hectoliters was down 10% vs. the long term average and 8 % smaller than 2012.
While Germany’s largest region, Rheinhessen, had a full crop, the Pfalz, 2nd largest, produced 6% less than the long-term median and 11 % less than in 2012. Of the remaining major regions, Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau, Baden all produced less, losing between 30% (Mosel ) and 21% (Baden and Rheingau) against their long term average yields. The bad news: Until late September a regular size crop was widely expected - and it was needed! 2012 had been a small harvest and German wines enjoyed a continuation of the ongoing, positive trend so a smaller than expected harvest met with very small or no stocks at all in producers’ and merchants’ cellars.
Consequently, the harvest business for grapes and juice was brisk and prices rose over the level of 2012. Surprisingly, the increases were limited, a tribute to the fact that the “open” market has shrunk considerably over the past decade: This is because an increasing number of growers who are not members of cooperatives, have entered into long-term contracts with wineries at a guaranteed price, taking a lot of volume and also volatility off the “spot market” for grapes, juice and wine. Still, co-ops and wineries with firm contracts for custom-grown fruit or juice ended up with less juice than needed and it has become extremely difficult to supplement from the small “open” market where many private estates are now competing to buy wine in order to fill the gaps in their supplies. Coupled with the ongoing strong demand for German wines, both at home and internationally, 2014 will become a very interesting year! The trend to enter into long term contracts between grape growers (who formerly sold juice or bulk wine) and specialist wine producers continues, the number of “players” continues to shrink. This trend has had a positive effect on both price, quality and image of German wines.
The saturation of the home market for red wines continued in 2013, with white grapes in higher demand than red grapes. Of the reds, Spätburgunder/Pinot Noir is still the most popular while Dornfelder, the darling of the past decade, is losing for the 3rd year in a row. For whites, Riesling still reigns supreme though the Pinot (Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder) family continues to gain popularity and new plantings. The negative trend for the former “work horses” Mueller-Thurgau, Silvaner and Kerner continues, while from the “exotic” spectrum, Scheurebe and other varietals with strong bouquet have been losing too. Germany is still, by far, the world’s biggest Riesling producer, followed by Australia and France while for Pinot Noir, Germany is No. 3 in the world, after France and the US.
The domestic economy continues to be strong in Germany, the new government again under the reigns of Angela Merkel bodes well for economic stability both of which seem to spur more consumer spending and that may well further support the consumption of wine, both imported and domestic in Germany. In this context it should be noted that Germany continues to maintain it’s position as the world’s largest net importer of wine!
- Special thanks to Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster for this report.