2020 Harvest Update: First Grapes Picked in Germany at Record Ripeness

In June, we reported German winemakers’ prediction of an earlier-than-average 2020 harvest. On August 10, the first grapes were picked in the Pfalz region for production of this year’s Federweisser – a partially fermented ‘new wine’ enjoyed as a local specialty – even sooner than the mid-August expectation.

The grapes of the early-ripening Solaris variety were very healthy and already quite ripe, with over 100 degrees Oechsle, even at this comparatively early harvest time.

Note: Oechsle is a scale of sugar measurement in degrees based on the density of grape juice. Learn more German wine terms here.

Rapid Vine Development

As reported by the German Wine Institute, the vines are currently about a week ahead in maturity, compared to 2019. Depending on the region, the start of the main vintage is expected as early as late August to early September. Late ripening varieties such as Riesling will probably not be ready for harvest until mid to late September, depending on the individual growing areas.

Earlier in the year, after a warm and sunny spring, vines sprouted almost two weeks earlier than the long-term average. In the Rheingau region, there was even talk of the second earliest bud emergence since 2014, when weather records began. The vines also began to bloom in warm locations at the end of May, eight to ten days earlier than the 30-year average. Therefore, an early start to harvest was predictable even then, because the grapes are usually ready for harvest around 90 to 100 days after flowering.

Late Frosts, Drought and Sunburn

However, late frosts from May 10-15 have led to considerable frost damage, all the way from North Baden through North Württemberg and Franken to Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen. Relatively large yield losses are expected in Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen in particular, Germany’s northernmost and easternmost regions.

Also impacting German vineyards: widespread drought. Rainfall in the last few months was distributed very differently between the regions and often only provided a brief reprieve. The current water supply is therefore varied. Many older vineyards with deep-rooted vines have an advantage in this case, and are still in relatively good condition. However, young plants and vineyards on soils with little water storage may show symptoms of stress, especially with the current extreme heat waves, and some have to be irrigated.

Similar to last year, temperatures over 86 degrees Fahrenheit have already caused sunburn damage to grapes across all areas. This reduces the yield, but has no influence on the quality of the wine. The severity of the damage remains to be seen.

Optimistic View on a Promising Vintage

All things considered, the grapes in Germany’s vineyards are very healthy at the moment, which suggests beautiful fruity white wines. The weather in the next few weeks will be decisive for the quality of the vintage, although the preference would be for a small amount of rain followed by a warm, dry harvest.

Given the current climatic conditions, winemakers are cautiously optimistic about a high quality vintage year with good-sized yields.

Get an overview of viticulture in Germany here, and stay tuned for updates on the main 2020 harvest and more!