It’s really nothing new: every growing season has a distinctive “personality.” Vintage 2011 was no exception; it was a very special and unusual year. January and February were unusually mild; March, truly a spring month; April, more like summer; and May, also warm. This all added up to a spring with above-average temperatures: nearly 3°C (5.4°F) higher than the long-term average. Not only were temperatures remarkable, but also the lack of precipitation: it was the driest spring in more than 120 years, topped only by the dry spring of 1893. By the time blossoming began in May, growth was more than three weeks ahead of schedule. There was a sudden change in the weather at the end of May. Rain set in, June was extremely wet, and August was really a rainout.
The end of July marked the earliest veraison ever. This early onset of ripening, with nearly subtropical weather and a plague of wasps, led to some severe, early rot in the vineyards. Grapes continued to ripen rapidly. The result: one of the earliest harvests in the history of our estate. By 7 September we had harvested the first grapes in Oestrich, with Oechsle readings of nearly 80 degrees. We certainly numbered among the very first to have begun harvesting in the Rheingau. By mid-September, it seemed as though the harvest might be as complicated as that of 2006 – yet another change in the weather saved the day. A beautiful Indian summer set in. Remaining pockets of rot dried out and we were able to harvest grapes with fantastic levels of ripeness until well into October. After nearly eight weeks, we were able to end our harvest of completely healthy and ripe grapes in the Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen site. The 2011 harvest was not only the earliest in our history, but also one of the longest. We were literally the last estate to still have had grapes hanging on the vine. In the end, we were even able to leave a few grapes on the vine in the Nussbrunnen site for a potential ice wine harvest.
We took very high risks during last year’s difficult vintage; even more in 2011. We made decisions on a day-by-day basis; scrutinized our strategy; and continually tried to define the optimal time to harvest in each vineyard. In the end, we relied on the actual taste of the grapes rather than Oechsle readings. We harvested more selectively than ever before. Grapes were removed in up to five stages (!) in some vineyards before the actual harvest began. The results are fabulous: young wines and fermenting musts that show a completely new spectrum of aromas.
Vintage 2011 is truly a good vintage. Time will tell whether it will develop into a great vintage. But even at this stage, we can say that all of our new wines have a distinctive character and clearly reflect their origin. And that’s precisely what we’re aiming for!