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Austria 2008 - A Year of Contrasts

Austrian Wines © ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA

© ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA

December 3, 2008

Good, quality-oriented work in the vineyards more than paid off this year

When comparing the 2008 vintage with the previous one, many similarities can be found. The flowering periods were alike, as were weather patterns at different points throughout both years. However, there were distinct differences, thanks to the mischievous weather, which also influenced the harvest times in the different wine-growing areas. In general, the harvest was completed during the last week of October. For Prädikat wines, however, it continues in December.

Good, quality-oriented work in the vineyards more than paid off this year, because the grapes remained healthy despite the pressure of rot. So with calm and peaceful expectation, the nice October weather brought ripe and healthy grapes into the cellar. Characteristic varietal fruitiness harmonised well with a firm acidity structure and pleasant -- and not too high -- alcohol content. The quantity will be notably higher than last year, even though last year's quantity was higher than average as well.

The Weather
The year began with little snow and a mild winter -- even Steiermark
(Styria) registered the third warmest January on record. Also in February, temperatures were nearly 3°C higher than average - in Burgenland, more than 3.5°C higher. At the end of the month in Steiermark, over 20° C was registered. March began and ended warm, although at around Easter time, during the second half of the month, a winter relapse occurred. Rainfall was average to slightly higher than average. April temperatures were not out of the ordinary, but rainfall varied in the different wine-growing areas; a particularly bad storm in the Krems area on April 22nd brought more than double the amount of water to the soil; otherwise, it was rather too dry.

In Austria's west, May was unusually warm, in the wine-growing areas temperatures were 0.5°C to 1.5°C above the norm. Moreover, a cold weather period on around May 20th quickly changed into early summer heat - in Graz, 34.9 °C was registered at the end of the month. Rainfall was generally lacking, while there was more sunshine than usual. June, however, was characterized not only by a drop in temperatures followed by heat, but also by rainfall that underscored the vintage: up to 300% higher than average in the area south of Vienna; and in the Südsteiermark (South Styria), double the average amount. Sunshine was fairly minimal. July was very wet due to many thunderstorms: Eisenstadt registered rainfall totalling three times above the average amount.

Unfortunately, hailstorms occurred in all regions. Also August was not spared rainfalls, though temperatures were at an average. There were frequent warm day-cool day changes.
September was rather cool with a strong cold air wave on September 13th, which sent temperatures down by 10 - 15°C. Moreover, there were plentiful amounts of rain, even though recorded totals showed only average amounts. October was relatively pleasant to cool with some rainfall; certain regions registered bouts of long-lasting fog.

Vegetation and the Vintage
The mild weather conditions lead to an early bud break and, in
mid-April, a quick, continuous vine development began. The flowering in
June was supported by good weather, and so expectations were high -- at
first. Soon after, hailstorms resulted in the first natural yield
limitation, which put the first stamp on the vintage.

Hail and Plenty of Humidity
These words capture the character of this vintage, especially for the
producers who reflect on all of the work that was necessary in the
vineyards. Hailstorms in the early as well as late growing and ripening
phases lead to some damages; fortunately, the vines were compensated as
growth continued.

While a good supply of humidity was beneficial to the vines, it also
increased susceptibility to downy mildew and powdery mildew. This became
the focal point of the intensive quality work carried out in the
vineyards -- and revealed who really did their homework! With careful
attention and response, problems could be solved or even avoided -- thus
allowing for the appropriate ripening of the grapes to take place. Some
bio-dynamic wineries could not withstand the extreme pressure and were
left with no choice but to accept yield decreases.

Over and over again, hailstorms throughout the summer had to be faced.
Depending on the temperatures, a higher occurrence of infection or else
the shrinking of the damaged grapes occurred.

Ripening and Harvest

The grapes began to soften and ripen at around mid-August. Because of
the humidity, the vines were well supplied and, moreover, the grapes
provided enough must content for fermentation. Because of the rather
cool weather in September and October, the increase of ripeness and
gradation was very slow. This also influenced the harvest times in the
different regions.

There were big problems with rot only in vineyards which were not
attended to properly. With careful pruning and plant protection
measures, decisions on when to harvest were made because of ripeness,
not rottenness.

In Burgenland, especially in the Seewinkel area, the harvest was already
finished at the beginning of October, and in the Weinviertel, the last
of the grapes were cut on Austria's National Day, October 26th. But in
the Wachau in October, harvesting of grapes for the higher quality level
wines barely had begun.

In general, those who had strong nerves and waited for ripening to
proceed further had, after a cool September, a relatively beautiful
October for completing the harvest.
In some regions, however, there was the danger of Botrytis setting in
because of long lasting fog together with the warm weather. Additional
work -- such as the meticulous sorting of damaged grapes -- was often
necessary. Careful selection in the vineyard or immediately after delivery was very
important this year. Also during the processing, special care was taken
because of, for example, the need for correction of the higher phenolic
content. The acidity levels of this vintage will need some oenological
correction as well.

Evaluations of the Vintage

Steiermark

This year, Steiermark (Styria) got off lightly concerning the weather.
But the hailstorms during the flowering period as well as at the end of
the summer brought a kind of balance. Therefore, all in all, the harvest
quantity this year will be similar to last year's.
Despite extended rainfalls in regions such as Niederösterreich (Lower
Austria), the Steiermark had only one major downpour in the middle of
September. Therefore, it was ideal to wait for good ripeness to develop.
A good expression of fruitiness, beautiful acidity and nicely adequate
gradations -- and not really lower alcohol - will define the vintage
character. "Perfect ripeness, perfect acidity, beautiful fruitiness" is
how a Styrian winemaker has described the vintage.

Wien

A lot of work was required in order to get good grapes this year! But in
return, the winemakers are very happy about the good varietal
characteristics coming through in the wines. Fruitiness and a firm
acidity structure, together with alcohol that is not too high, are
qualities appreciated by consumers, at the Heurigen and in fine dining
establishments.

Niederösterreich

If one could have known how beautiful October would become, then it
would have been possible to wait for the harvest. But many growers
wanted either to be on the safe side or harvest early because of the
health of the grapes. The humidity brought larger harvest quantities
despite any damages that were incurred.
Extensive parts of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) had to battle a
special problem in September: fog, which would last until noon and even
later, together with pleasant temperatures of around 20°C. This caused
Botrytis to break out, often over night, making quick reactions
necessary. Otherwise the cool September and October brought no
significant increases of gradation because the leaves could no longer
perform.

Ultimately, good fruitiness, agreeable alcohol and a marked acidity
structure are prominent (and will be watched further in the cellars).
Those who did their homework in the vineyards could choose the right
harvest time to gather beautiful and well-ripened grapes.

Burgenland

Rainfall at the end of May resulted in extensive pruning in order to
avoid rot. The huge hailstorm on July 7th may still stand out in many
producers' memories. But all of the work undertaken this year has been
repaid with beautiful fresh fruit and pleasant acidity. The red wines
are well covered, with Blaufränkisch showing marked fruit and spiciness.
Also Zweigelt and Pinot Noir are demonstrating distinction and fine
fruit tones. The moderate alcohol content will make this vintage a light
drinkable one, and the high harvest quantities will provide an ample
supply of wines.

Quantity
The last harvest quantity estimate, made by Statistik Austria at the end
of October, was put at a little more than 2.8 million hectolitres. The
average of each of the last five vintages (2003-2007) was approximately
2.5 million hectolitres.

Press information, December 2008
AWMB, Susanne Staggl
Tel: +43 1 503 92 67
Fax: +43 1 503 92 68
info@weinausoesterreich.at
www.weinausoesterreich.at

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