2016 vintage: great wines and small yields

Picture: Joachim Lukan/Wein Burgenland

Good things come in small packages! Winemaking is a never-ending learning process that never fails to keep the suspense alive. Take, for example, last year’s unusually fickle weather that swept across the vineyards from Lake Neusiedl all the way to Southern Burgenland. The 2016 vintage was a source of much trepidation for Burgenland’s winemakers, who had to put in a great deal of work and were ultimately rewarded with only small yields. Still, the harvest season in late summer went quite smoothly thanks to perfectly ripe and healthy grapes, resulting in fruity red wines full of complexity and structure.

2016 truly tested the limits of Burgenland’s vines, first exposing them to three days of late frost at the end of April and then dousing them in scattered hail and heavy rain over the summer. Harvest losses that year were higher than at any time in the last few decades of Burgenland’s winemaking history. Shortfalls of 50 to 70 per cent in grape volumes at the end of the year had some winemakers in a rather gloomy mood. Those in Southern Burgenland were hit particularly hard, with heavy hail that put additional strain on vines already affected by frost.

A lot of work, little reward

The mild winter lasted well into April of the previous year and made spring feelings rise in nature as early as February. The swift bud break in the vineyards came to a sudden halt in late April, when the first green shoots and vines were thrown into a kind of shock after three long nights of frost. Frostbite and setbacks in the plants’ ripening were followed by several months of sultry and humid weather, interspersed with hot days of up to 35 degrees Celsius. Fittingly, winemakers worked up quite a sweat: constant canopy management in the vineyard was a must to ensure adequate air flow to the grapes, as the almost tropical conditions led to faster leaf growth. Both organic and conventional winemakers were thus working tirelessly to keep their vines and the few remaining grapes free from fungi and pests. The laboriously applied plant aids in the vineyards kept getting washed away by frequent rain, which meant a significant amount of extra work for Burgenland’s winemakers and their teams.

Surprising turnaround and focus on top quality

The ambivalent weather and the prospect of small yields left many winegrowers with frayed nerves. Surprisingly enough, things took a turn for the better in the end, as Burgenland’s winemakers were eventually able to reap the rewards of their exceptionally hard work in late summer and fill their cellars with some real gems. Warm and dry hours of sunshine lasting well into autumn gave us “naturally selected” grapes with a distinct ripeness that reflects the tremendous efforts put in over the year. Nature is a force to be reckoned with, certainly in agriculture and especially so in winegrowing. But this is exactly what makes wine so intriguing and diverse: every year it tells us its very own story of how it came into being and gives us a taste of the influences of Mother Nature and the well-trained skills of our winemakers. 2016 brings us fine aromas with a characteristic taste, well-balanced acidity and a velvety opulence on the palate, all in top quality.

 

 

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