In Europe the harvest will be reduced compared to 2018, which was extraordinary large. The high temperatures recorded during the summer are the main cause of the reduction in yields, but we expect excellent quality grapes, summarised Ignacio Sanchez Recarte, general secretary of the European Wine Companies Committee (CEEV).
The French Ministry of Agriculture estimates the imminent harvest at 430 million litres, down 12% on 2018. The smaller yields will lead French bottlers to import a larger amount of Spanish bulk wine, a route that consistently is the biggest bulk route in the world. Historically speaking the volume is not so bad, just down 4% on the five year average.
It’s been reported that many of the 246,000 vineyard hectares of Languedoc produced smaller berry sizes this year, a result of the dry conditions from July to early September. This will inevitably result in a higher ratio of skins in macerating red wine, leading to dark and structured reds. Another plus this year has been that the high temperatures and generally dry weather across France reduced the level of diseases. Organic wine production is a category that is expected to fall more than average, mostly because of unfavourable local conditions in the Languedoc area of Gard, a region with large organic plantations. Languedoc is home to about 30% of the total organic (certified) French production.
On the 25th of September it was reported by local media that more than 100,000 workers had arrived to Champagne for the harvest, flooding the towns populations of a mere few thousand. According to Charles Philipponnat, manager of Maison Philipponnat, the alcohol potential is 11.5% vol, with a very nice sugar/acid balance and about six to seven grams of total acidity.
In Burgundy, yields are definitely lower this year, said Frédéric Weber, cellar master at Bouchard in the Côte de Beaune. The 250 people strong picking team, one of the biggest in Burgundy started harvesting on September 12th. In Pomerol, the iconic Petrús choose to bring the grapes in on September 17th, about a week earlier than the Bordeaux average. The heatwaves where a lesser problem, as the rainfall in June effectively brought lowered the average temperatures.
Harvest predictions from Italy are unusually detailed this year, thanks to Assoenologi, ISMEA and UIV who has compiled a joint harvest report, for the the first time. According to the report, not a single wine region in Italy will produce more wine than in 2018. The average decrease on last year will be 16%, but some regions are more affected than others. Umbria, Emilia-Romagna and Sicily will all see 20% less yields this year. The largest decreases are coming from Lombardy, where the harvest will be as much as 30% lower than 2018. As a whole, Italy is expected to dispose of some 406 million litres with an estimated market value of 11 billion euros.
"We are back to the average of the last few years, a marked decline compared to last year's exceptional production with a variable quality, between good and excellent depending on the zone," explained Ernesto Abbona, president of Unione Italiana Vini, on a event in Rome last week. Comparing with the rest of of the Mediterranean countries, Italian wineries seem particularly well versed in marketing and exports. Something that shows in the numbers from ISMEA; exports in the first five months of the year is up 11%. On a longer time frame of 10 years exports have almost doubled.
The thirst for Prosecco is ongoing, with export gains of 20% compared to last year. The sparkling wine trend remains strong, but not all sparkling wines have managed to benefit. Asti shows difficulties in maintaining their exports in Europe, where sweeter wines are suffering in the marketplace. As other wines with decreasing popularity have tried before, Asti is turning their attention to China where the sweeter taste is predicted to be appreciated.
Since our earlier harvest report in August, welcomed precipitations falls have occured throughout the Iberian peninsula. The effect has been a widespread decrease in temperatures and a reduced level of moisture stress on unirrigated vineyards – many of which has seen no rain since spring.
Harvest is ongoing, but it seems inevitable that the total volume will be below the large 2018 harvest, that produced some 500 million litres. According to our best estimates, 2019 will be 15-20 percent smaller than last year. The grapes from traditional “en vaso” bush vines are smaller than normal, as most of these are not irrigated and rely on ground water levels. Particularly excellent wines will be produced from those vines, rich in extract, polyphenols and colour. The harvest of the major commercial varieties such as Airén and then started on September 23rd, in near perfect conditions. On a national level, there has been little to no disease pressure. Catalan Cava house, Raventós i Blanc posted that they have never in the history of the winery seen so healthy grapes.
Just a three hour drive west from Catalonia growers where not so lucky, in the first week of September a substantial storm affected the DOP Cariñena south of Valladolid. The local Consejo estimates that this storm alone will reduce the yields with 8%.
On a national level, growers have been reporting increases in extreme weather phenomena. Each year seems more extreme than the last, "I’m worried that the acidity of the wines wines will became a problem in the very near future," said Audrey Dore, sommelière at Celler de Can Roca to local wine magazine Vinetur. To counter the heat some regions have switched to night harvest, such as the major white wine region Rueda.