I marts måned blev den længe ventede årgang 2017 fra Domaine Zind-Humbrecht frigivet. Det blev som altid markeret med en vintage smagning i Alsace, hvor direktør Troels Ambo lagde vejen forbi. Han inviterede vinmager Olivier Humbrecht til en samtale om arbejdet med årgangen i marken og kælderen, hvor der er tale om en dedikeret og passioneret tilgang, der gang på gang bringer os de helt store vinoplevelser i glasset.

What should we expect from the 2017 vintage, which was very small?

“The very mild and dry winter of 2016/2017 caused an early budbreak between late March and early April 2017. The vineyards already looked green in mid-April and it was possible to see 3 to 4 well-opened leaves on Gewurztraminer vines. Rapid growth has at least minimized the damage caused by insects eating buds in this period. Unfortunately, two waves of cold from the north-east crossed France a week apart. Alsace was particularly affected by the first wave between 21 and 22 April, with temperatures around -3 ° C. The effect of the frost was catastrophic. Under the effect of an easterly wind, many vineyards have suffered frost, especially those usually protected by the winds that descend the valleys and prevent the cold from stagnating, such as the Herrenweg in Turckheim. My father, who witnessed more than 60 vintages, has never seen frost damage on some places which had frozen in 2017. It was possible to observe that Gewurztraminer is a grape variety that does not like cold temperatures, the biggest crop loss being noted on this grape variety. In one morning, we could only harvest 42hl on 7 hectares of Gewurztraminer !

In contrast, Pinot Gris suffered less with only 50% loss on average. It is likely that the softer cell structure of Pinot Gris, unlike that of the more rigid and hard Gewurztraminer, will have allowed the cells to change shape under the action of frost / thaw without bursting. At the time of freezing, the latent/double buds had already grown on many vines. It was not possible to hope for a harvest on these buds”.

“The increased risk of spring frost is probably the most harmful consequence of global warming in viticulture”

“A vine strongly affected by frost also takes a long time to recover from the shock, and the growth of latent buds only occurred in May, leaving the vines with little energy source. Much later in the year, it was possible to see the lack of shoots and leaves on the most damaged vines. This huge stress, associated with the loss of crop, will have also had a major influence on the floral induction which explains the very big harvest 2018 of the following year. Clos Häuserer is probably the most frost-sensitive area because of its sheltered position (no winds). Fortunately, a very late pruning (end of March) delayed the budbreak and the canes were attached only after the frost. Being away from the ground will have protected the young shoots from frost. The Clos Häuserer therefore produced a near-normal harvest. A rich teaching experience for future years”.

“Once again, the quality of rooting (old vines, cultivation of the soil), the level of harvest and the care of the vines made the difference”

In early May, we feared for the Brand when a hailstorm hit the vineyard. Fortunately it remained inconsequential. Flowering started early end of May on precocious sites but only finished mid-June. It is possible to see aborted clusters, especially on Gewurztraminer, which grew into tendrils.

The last two weeks of June and July are very warm, causing water stress on the most sensitive vines. Once again, the quality of rooting (old vines, cultivation of the soil), the level of harvest and the care of the vines made the difference. The beginning of August is milder and the vineyards are looking good. The low yields of 2017 definitely increased the resistance of the vines. The temperatures are rising again at the end of the month and the maturation of the grapes is progressing fast. The first vineyard was harvested August 29 (Pinot-Gris Roche Roulée) followed shortly by many Pinot-Gris vineyards like Rotenberg, Heimbourg…

A little rain on September 2nd only accelerates the ripening process. The Rieslings were harvested from September 11th and luckily, temperatures dropped around mid-September at 5 ° C overnight. We finished the harvest with Rangen, Hengst and Clos Jebsal on September 26th.

“The wines of 2017 have a great harmony, often characterized by nice acidities and low or normal pH, the maturities are normal without excess”.

The poor harvest in 2017 will have at least allowed the vines to withstand the heat and drought during the summer. The choice of the harvest date was essential because if some places maturities were delayed because of the frost, others have matured very quickly. The harvest was very healthy, only the Clos Jebsal saw the development of some noble rot. The wines of 2017 have a great harmony, often characterized by nice acidities and low or normal pH, the maturities are normal without excess. Despite the precocity of the vintage, the wines fermented more slowly than usual, probably because of the density and structure of the vintage (and not because of excessive sugar content). Some wines have benefited from longer full lees contact, like most Pinot-Gris. 2017 is a great vintage that should confirm these expectations through a good ageing potential”.

Which challenges in the vineyards and winery did 2017 bring you?

“Obviously the frost was the biggest problem in the vineyard in 2017. Reducing yields to sometimes almost nothing (Gew Roche Roulée for ex). The only good thing is that that reduced crop made it easier for the vines to go through the drought and heat that followed. Cellar: no problems at all. Very long fermentations for most wines (except gewurzt) due to high dry extract. Last time we saw that was in 2013 and 2010, or some Rieslings in 2014”.

Could you describe the general style of your wines (Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurz, Zind) compared to vintage 2016?

“2016: very slow ripening process due to the drought of summer 2016. This means that the grapes could ripen physiologically very well, keeping a reasonable sugar ripeness. So all 2016s are elegant, delicate and mostly dry wines. They should also evolve very well and keep for a long time because the crop was very healthy. No diseases or rot issues in the vineyards. Fermentations were very ‘clean’ with no defaults…. It is a must have vintage and also not a rare one, yields were normal”.

Which wines surpriced you the most in this vintage?

Probably the Pinot Gris. We are used to consistent quality for Rieslings, but Pinot Gris behave very well (just like in 2017), show beautiful flavor profile, elegant structure and easy drinking power. 2016 marks a turning point in the style of the PGs that we could start to see in the previous vintages. Except in 2016, all PG are in the same style: dry elegant food friendly wines.

If you were to choose two wines which you would recommend the Danish customers NOT to miss in 2017, which would it be?

Pinot Gris Rangen 2017. If you liked the 1985, this is the one to keep.
Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2017: The absolute dry, delicate, crisp Riesling

Your style in the wines has changed somewhat over the last years, becoming more dry style wines with many indice 1’s. Is this a Olivier Humbrecht change or mother nature change?

“This is me bending mother nature to deliver riper graper at an earlier stage so we can harvest earlier and avoid excess sugar and keep better acidity. No easy to do…. It’s easier to harvest green grapes earlier and add sugar”

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