The 2015 vintage will be remembered for its dry, hot summer growing season. It will also be revered for the stellar quality fruit harvested by the VDP estates, even if overall yields were distinctly lower than in years past. Extensive manual selection, world-class vineyards and well-timed interventions paid major dividends this year, leading to frequent comparisons to the legendary 1959 and 1971 vintages.
"The 2015 grape harvest was unusual in two ways. Not that the trend is completely unexpected, but never before have we had a harvest kick off so early and be so brief. It's definitely a change from the classic romantic vision of a wine harvest. But the bottom line is this: all's well that ends well," says Steffen Christmann, President of the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP).
Growing season and harvest
A dry spring and a warm, dry growing season set the tone for a dry summer and record heat. In many places the lack of precipitation during the first six months did little to disturb the vines. The plants acclimated themselves quickly to the warm temperatures and pulled on reserves from the copious rain of the previous winter. The dry conditions nevertheless posed a number of other challenges for the VDP winegrowers. Younger vines in particular required a variety of extra measures, including mulching, moderate defoliation and crop thinning to preserve what little water the soil contained and minimize the risk to the harvest.
Early September brought real rainfall, easing drought-related concerns significantly. While the vines had become accustomed to less precipitation, they happily accepted the extra water when it arrived. On the other hand, now the winegrowers had to contend with the threat of bursting berries. As the harvest date approached in mid-September, a fortuitous high pressure system settled in with picture-perfect dry and pleasant weather — and a collective sigh of relief.
Cool nights and continued warm days encouraged the grapes to develop their full varietal spectrum of characteristic aromas. The conditions were thus perfect for harvesting flawless, fully ripe fruit. The late-ripening Pinot varieties in particular, as well as Riesling and Silvaner, handled the year's severe dryness masterfully.
The only downside was the lower yields reported in many regions. Baden for example registered a 10% drop over the year prior. Yet the exquisite quality of the harvest more than made up for those losses.
VDP.Grosse Lage and VDP.Erste Lage:
Given the challenging conditions, it is notable that the fruit from the VDP.GROSSE LAGE and VDP.ERSTE LAGE sites in particular thrived and were of exceptional quality this year. These wines from the best parcels of the top vineyards produce intensely concentrated wines with a complexity and precision that reflects the characteristic terroir of their origin. For this to work, the grapes must be harvested in healthy condition at the optimal point of ripeness, and not a moment later. A true challenge during the harvest.
"The grapes for our VDP.GROSSE GEWÄCHSE were harvested in September, which is much earlier than normal for us. In comparison, our 2008 grapes at these quality levels were still being harvested into November. The analytical values and intense aromatics convinced us that we'd reached the optimal time to harvest." Felix Peters, Weingut St. Antony (Rheinhessen)
Voices from the Regions
Ahr – Spätburgunder with outstanding potential
"We're quite satisfied. The winegrowers who worked hard in the vineyards were rewarded with a strong harvest. The dry days and cool nights were incredibly important in helping the fruit aromas develop fully, especially the late-ripening Spätburgunder." Marc Adeneuer, Weingut J.J. Adeneuer (Ahrweiler)
Baden – Even ripening across the varieties
"The grapes in Baden were in outstanding condition as we went into harvest. Beyond a few unfortunate incidents on the Kaiserstuhl, our winegrowers were spared any significant severe weather and hail. That said, the extreme dryness drove harvest yields down in some areas. One notable aspect to 2015: in some areas the different varieties all reached peak ripeness at the same time. This certainly posed major challenges for those winegrowers. That said, their efforts were rewarded with a complete harvest rich with healthy, fully ripe grapes." Arne Bercher, Weingut Bercher (Burkheim)
Franken – Some of these reds are destined for greatness
"Our red wines are developing with extraordinary extract levels and color intensity; some of these reds are destined for greatness." Johann Ruck, Weingut Johann Ruck (Iphofen)
"A special vintage," confirms Paul Fürst, Chairman of VDP.Franken: "Without overdoing the premature praise, it's already clear that we succeeded in bringing a healthy, ripe vintage into the cellars." ?
Mittelrhein – VDP.GROSSE LAGE sites produce a vintage with outstanding aromatics
"We launched relatively late into the harvest, based on some severe rainfall that raised concern in mid-September. Once we started, however, it was clear that we were bringing in absolutely healthy and ripe fruit. 2015 proved an extremely dry year on the whole, but the VDP.GROSSE LAGE sites in particular drew on their old roots stretching deep into the slate to develop remarkable aromatics. We can already taste impressive minerality and weightiness." Jochen Ratzenberger, Weingut Ratzenberger (Bacharach)
Mosel – Small berries set the perfect stage for excellent quality
"The 2015 vintage? Just think how deep the roots must stretch to reach water! Barely any drought damage! Sure, the berries are small, but it sets the stage perfectly for excellent quality. Wine is a natural product after all... and that's precisely what makes it so fascinating. Although our hands work daily to nurture outstanding quality grapes in the vineyards, the final word always falls to a higher power. Nature.“ Reinhard Löwenstein, Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein (Winningen)
Nahe — Thoughts of 1990 are already bubbling up
"With the warm temperatures and dry summer, comparisons to the opulent, low acid wines of the 2003 vintage are understandable. But ultimately unfounded! In truth, the conditions in 2015 are much more closely aligned with the 1990 vintage. Then as now, the Riesling grapes achieved a perfect ripeness and a direct, lively acidity. From a quality standpoint, 2015 came together brilliantly. The only caveat was the modest yields of just 46 hl/ha." Armin Diel, Schlossgut Diel (Burg Layen)
Pfalz — Thrilling blend of ripeness and acidity
"A truly remarkable must is ready to begin fermentation in our cellars. It smells truly amazing, with a thrilling blend of ripeness and acidity that has proven a real joy to observe and taste." Steffen Christmann, Weingut Christmann (Gimmeldingen)
Rheingau — Late-arriving botrytis and fantastic must readings! An exceptional vintage!
"Harvest is complete (8 November 2015). All quality classifications excepting Eiswein are safe and sound in the cellar. A remarkable vintage of optimal ripeness and healthy, flavorful grapes! Brilliant acidity! With late-arriving botrytis and fantastic must weights up to 200 °Oe!" Wilhelm Weil, Weingut Robert Weil (Kiedrich)?
Rheinhessen — Walking the tightrope with alcohol levels
"We expect that the year's power and warmth taken together with its refreshing acidity levels will translate into really stunning wines. The challenge in 2015 was to keep the potential alcohol levels from soaring too high. We were very careful, using only healthy fruit and strict selection. I do believe this is going to be a vintage of exceptional quality. We are very excited to taste the development of all that is happening in our barrels." Philipp Wittmann, Weingut Wittmann (Westhofen)
Sachsen /Saale-Unstrut – Optimally ripe fruit, despite the hail
"The Meißner Spaargebirge was hit hard by hail in early September, causing significant damage to both fruit and vine. Luckily, the vineyards of VDP estates Schloss Proschwitz and Zimmerling were mostly spared. Our grapes were very healthy, with only minimal rot throughout the vineyards. This enabled the grapes across every variety to reach an ideal physiological ripeness before harvest.
The white wines are showing ripe, fruity notes in the nose with an exciting tropical character. Aromatic varieties such as Scheurebe and Traminer should be on everyone's watch list throughout Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut." Dr. Georg Prinz zur Lippe, Weingut Proschwitz (Diera)
Württemberg — High quality, low yields
"We finished up the harvest at Burg Schaubeck in mid-October amidst fairytale weather and picture perfect fruit. The castle's keepers have a long institutional memory, and yet can recall very few autumns of such grand must readings — 1959, 1971 and 2003 among them. Healthy grapes and bright acidity are considered just as important as Oechsle measurements in today's wines. And that is what has made all the difference in the 2015 vintage: perfect grapes with high must weights and optimal acidity! Reduced yields of 50 hl/ha mean this is a year to celebrate quality over quantity." Felix Graf Adelmann, Weingut Adelmann (Kleinbottwar)
The Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) is the oldest national association of top estates in the world. For the 200 VDP estates, membership represents a voluntary commitment to strict quality standards — from vineyard to bottle. The VDP classification pyramid of 2012 defines 4 tiers of quality for wines, based on their origin: VDP.GUTSWEIN, VDP.ORTSWEIN, VDP.ERSTE LAGE and VDP.GROSSE LAGE. The VDP logo embossed on the top of the bottle is a promise of quality. It represents an artisanal and terroir-driven wine.