German Wine Growers Riding a Storm
Caption: Telling the difference between red and white grapes gets difficult as they deteriorate in rain. Photo: author
This week wine growers in central western Germany are standing with their hands-on-hips and shoulders stooped. Although none of that hardy lot is on his knees yet, many have taken a sharp kick to their bottom lines. The financial outlook is gloomy for the second year in a row for an immense German home market that normally earns over 11 billion Euro ($14.5 billion US) each year.
Official figures on the German wine harvest are not available until around 7-10th November each year, but growers in the Rhineland-Pfalz region near Mainz and Frankfurt are already looking downcast about this year’s results.
This shock comes after a whopping drop of 20% last year in areas near Rheingau, Mittelrhein and Nahe. In Pfalz the 2009 crop was down by 6%. This general picture was repeated in most of the 13 German wine regions.
Despite a reduced harvest last year, wine growers produced better than average quality wine from what was left to them by the weather. The 2009 vintage was rated as above average quality. But this year, many are still waiting to see if the sunshine forecast for the final week of September will help boost much-needed sugar content. A long and tedious winter was followed by feeble summer sunshine. Then the rains came.
The wheat harvest was stripped on time – by 10th September. But this year’s peak growing periods had already been laced with more rain than required for clay or rocky soils and in some places, strong winds preceded the current rain and damaged the crops that still stood high.
This week a wine grower in Mainz-Ebersheim, about 20 km from Mainz City, sagged visibly while describing how one of his “classic boutique” wines had to be virtually abandoned after its normal 1000 liter yield was reduced to 60 to 80. Another shrugged and guessed at a 50% loss. He had felt he should start harvesting early, before the weekend, but he didn’t obey his intuition. He was not unique. And of course, few if any insurance companies offer coverage to protect farmers if they lose either their wine crops or potatoes and tomatoes.
The gentle slopes of Rhineland-Pfalz were known to the Roman and Napoleonic forces that long ago invaded the environs and recognized their wine producing potential. Normally the region produces all the red wine it can drink and enough white is left over for a substantial and expanding wine export market that includes US (mostly Riesling-style wine), UK and Norway.Continued on the next page