Alsace’s “classic” harvest in 2014

Seems to favor fresh styled dry wines, and could be great for crémant

By Panos Kakaviatos in Strasbourg

2014 looks to be a “classic vintage” with high acidities and good ripening especially for Riesling and Pinot Blanc, reported Olivier Humbrecht of Zind Humbrecht in Turckheim, who finished harvesting in late September at his precocious vineyards.

A fresh and cool August helped maintain acidity as in 2007, Humbrecht remarked.

While June and July were hot, August was fresh and rainy and thus good for maintaining acidity, but it also meant that sensitive grapes like Gewurztraminer had more difficulty to deal with botrytis, he explained.

In Rouffach at Domaine Muré, Thomas Muré on 3 October echoed Humbrecht’s assessment. He reported fine ripeness and freshness for Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sylvaner with lower than average potential alcohol, which he prefers. The domain’s celebrated Riesling Clos Saint Landelin will be about 12.5% and not at 13.5% he said.

Readers may think that “classic” is code for mediocre, but that is not what I mean in this text. From what I have heard, the vintage could result in fresh and pure Riesling, which sounds good to me. It is said in Alsace that Riesling likes its feet in the water and head in the sun. Sounds like 2014 to me. On the other hand there were challenges, so read on …

A crémant vintage – before the Suzukii attack

According to local news reports, the high acidity marking the vintage should result in very good crémant, which amounts to about one-quarter of all Alsatian wine sold worldwide. Muré, known for making excellent crémant, sees 2014 as a potentially très beau millésime based on the harvest, as grapes were picked rather early before the “large attacks” of grey or acetic rot, he explained.

Indeed as in Burgundy, and it seems almost all over France this year, the Suzukii drosophila – “vinegar flies” originating in Japan that struck vineyards during the September harvest – proved a menace, “eliminating between 10-20% of the harvest in some vineyards,” Humbrecht said. “Our pickings for dry wines sometimes resembled late harvest pickings – grape by grape – to remove berries affected by the acetic rot.”

Humbrecht does not predict a great year for the late harvest because yields were lower than expected and used for dry wines. Furthermore, if the drosophila remain, there is a “high risk” that they will attack the sweet concentrated juices.

Harvesting at Clos St Landelin. Photo credit: Thomas Muré

Muré is happy with the quality of his late harvest Riesling, but he will not make any late harvest Gewurztraminer.

The Alsace Wine Council is reporting a slightly higher yield overall than in 2013, but quality oriented vineyards will not have as much as they thought they would, Humbrecht stressed. Normally Zind Humbrecht produces about 200k bottles per harvest but only about 160k in 2014. Still it is a higher number than 2013’s measly 125k bottles.

Muré remarked: “We have never sorted grapes so much, ever.” He said that the Pinot Noirs for example were affected by both acetic and gray rot. So there were careful pickings in the vineyard followed by a vibrating sorting table to remove what the harvesters missed.

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4 Comments on “Alsace’s “classic” harvest in 2014

  1. Great article Panos! I am going to read a bit more about Suzukii drosophila which I didn’t know of. Thanks! 😉

    • Thanks for reading Julien! When I was in Volnay, winemaker Thiebault Huber joked that you could detect the Suzukii flies because they were green with an “S” mark. I believed him for a second.

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