Description of the vintage
Last year, it was difficult for me to compare 2007 with any previous vintage. This year, it is very easy! The 2008 year was in fact very similar to 2007, and the only little difference is that the flowering and therefore harvest were 2 weeks later than in 2007.
2007 being a non-stressed year with average yields, we already knew that the vines were not either too rested or overly exhausted from major stress. Winter was cold enough to allow the soils to restructure themselves properly, and mid April bud-break was considered normal. The vines were growing at a reasonable pace in May and dry weather prepared for a nice flowering. Bloom started first week of June in the most precocious sites, like Brand or Herrenweg in Turckheim, and was quickly over. Around second week of June, the weather turned colder and more rainy, and any vineyard not finished to flower then started to struggle finishing the flowering. This concerned most vineyards in Alsace, especially the later ripening sites like Gueberschwihr, Hunawihr or Thann on our estate. For those vineyards, the flowering only finished around the 20th/25th June when the weather became very warm again. Surprisingly, only the Muscat Ottonel suffered from serious millerandage or coulure. The other grape varieties were not too affected, so crop size was still expected to be normal.
The weather in July and August was sometimes warm and dry and then cold and rainy, creating some complications: difficulties to enter in the vineyards for spraying, more disease risks and very vigorous growth.
Most bio-dynamists are used to the fact that it is important to be able to react quickly to difficult weather. Being able to enter a vineyard quickly after rains depends on the soil structure (easier with grass than on a freshly ploughed soil!) and slope, but also on the type of equipment used. Compaction is a big worry for us, so we mostly use very small light micro tractors, mostly caterpillars, so it is quite easy to cultivate the vineyards, even under bad weather conditions.
The start of the harvest was difficult to predict, as the flowering was spread over 3 weeks, but we knew already in July that it would be a spread harvest. The biggest concern in the vineyards in 2008 was to be able to limit the huge vigour of the vines, induced by the large amount of rainfall in July. More water means more growth, bigger grapes, potentially more rot but also a much later stop of shoot growth. As long as the vines continue to grow, they do not concentrate their energy on the grapes. The result is often a spread véraison (change of colour) and this can affect the harvest quality, with too much heterogeneity in the ripeness. More than any previous year, we felt that the canopy management was crucial in controlling the way the vines wanted to grow. We no longer hedge our vines, except a few rare young vines, and this does help a lot the vines too control the vigour and not grow lateral shoots. The result is an earlier stop of growth, more homogenous ripeness, no lateral growth, smaller clusters and smaller grapes (30% in total!), but it also means a lot more manual work in order to deal with longer shoots and put them back into the canopy.
August wasn’t too wet, except in the middle of the month when we experienced two days of severe storms, bringing a lot of water. The end of the month was nice again. September was cold, almost very cold, and very rainy until the 13th and after that, very dry, with no rain until the end of the harvest. October was nice with many sunny days, no rain and cooler nights until the 22nd. Then the rain started and the weather deteriorated. I remember well, because we finished the harvest just before those rains.
The cool days of August and September allowed the grapes to keep a huge acidity, but also the sunny harvest period gradually brought excellent sugar and phenolic ripeness. We started the harvest on 23rd September and finished the 22nd October.
The lighter soils (Herrenweg) were harvested early because of their ability to ripen grapes quickly but also because they flowered very early. Hunawihr and Thann were harvested last. The noble rot, of very nice quality, started to develop early October, mostly on the precocious vineyard first but quickly spread on all the vineyards, but only on Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. At the exception of the Brand vineyard where we made an SGN, all other Riesling vineyards were harvested extremely healthy. With the Pinot Gris, we feared that we would end up with only late harvest style wines, so just like in 2000; we decided to do healthy selections. Instead of selecting the noble rot to make late harvest wines, we do the opposite and select the healthy grapes to be sure to make dry wines. The remaining grapes were harvested later as VTs or SGNs. Gewurztraminer was the grape which took the longest to ripen. It really needs some warmth and sunshine as it gets closer to harvest time, so in 2008, this only happened towards the middle of October.
All grape varieties in 2008 share a huge acidity and low pH. I insist in saying that some wines have record breaking levels, but mostly in tartaric acid, sign of good ripeness. As the sugar ripeness is very high, it should again produce some exceptional wines, with great ageing potential. Most wines took a longer than usual time to finish fermentation.
The average yield on our estate was 44hl/ha (48 in the AOC vines and 32 in the Grand Crus). All vineyards are farmed with strict bio-dynamic principles.
2008 should make wines with exceptional ageing potential.