German Vintage Report: 2022
How was the 2022 vintage in Germany?
2022 was nothing short of a miracle.
On the heels of the thrilling "classic" vintage of 2021 I was skeptical there would be much to go gaga over in 2022. How, in the age of climate change, could we expect two acid-driven vintages in a row? Especially with such divergent weather patterns. But in practice I and my acid freaks are going to have plenty to enjoy in 2022.
Wines are nothing short of fantastic with another balanced set of Kabinetts, much easier to drink upon release than last year. I tasted through 300 wines in Germany last month and loved what the vintage offered. Christoph Schaefer called them "fruity with great elegance." Nearly across the board it's a set of bright, high-acid wines, low in alcohol, with fully ripe fruit, and already absolute pleasure to enjoy already.
Predictions for the harvest and the quality of the vintage were doom and gloom up until the end. So how did we get from doomsday to my happy place?
2022 was the driest year on record. There was minimal rain and snow over the winter meaning there was not a lot of ground water and no rain between May and July. Temperatures soared like in 2018 and 2020 and farmers were expecting the worst: an early harvest, spiking sugar, plunging acidity, and poor phenolic ripeness. They'd need a miracle to get the quality they wanted.
Harvest was in fact the earliest ever, starting with sparkling wine grapes in the last week of August. A few nervous nellies then brought in the entry level Riesling grapes. And that miracle came, just in the nick of time.
Rain fell and nighttime temperatures dropped. Some producers in the Rheingau and Pfalz where Riesling was ready, rushed harvest before the rain or between downpours. But many, including those in the Mosel and Nahe were gifted with an 8 week extension of hang-time. Christoph Loewen reported that the final day of his harvest was actually the SAME for 2021 and 2022.
The cool Autumn temps kept acidity levels above similarly hot and dry years like 2018, 2019, and 2020 (lower than in 2021 but nothing has been that high since the 80s!). They reminded me of 2020 in their delicacy and ripeness, but with a steelier core, or 2016, but with more finesse or 2010, but more open and easier to enjoy now. The fruit spectrum was much more white pith and green lime than expected, only moving towards orange juice and tropical mango in the hottest sites, on sandstone soils, or the Spätlese levels and above.
One reason acidity stayed so buoyant and sugar so tempered was because the heat and water stress shut down the ripening of the vines during the worst of it. This saved vine resources for survival, but gifted us with incredibly balanced fruit.
As noted, the Kabinetts were great, but the GG's also fared well, with a lithe yet tensile quality to them, some were enjoyable right off the bat, although I expect them to shut down for a while in the next 6 months or so.
On the sweeter side of things is a gorgeous collection of more restrained Spätlese but unfortunately very few Auslese were made and just about no BA or TBA. In the end there was a struggle to achieve high levels of sugar ripeness and almost no noble rot.
Besides a lack of sweet wines there is one other downside, quantity. Water stress meant yields were already very low and rain brought disease pressure, extensive sorting, and more fruit on the floor. Quality wine producers had their most expensive harvest, as full manpower was needed, across a long stretch of time for a tiny harvest. At Willi Schaefer, their goal is 34,000 bottles a year, but made 23,000 in 2021 and a paltry 17,000 bottles in 2022 (be ready for those cuts!).
Normally there are variations between all the different wine regions, and very different outcomes in Germany and Austria. But in 2022, there was a surprising consistency throughout the teutonics. These are some great wines, in short supply, so get 'em while they're hot.