Worth the Effort: The 2020 Harvest at Villa Wolf in Germany’s Pfalz Region
Foresight and a Lot of Extra Vineyard Work Lead to an Exceptional Vintage
WACHENHEIM/WEINSTRASSE, GERMANY – Because of its very early start, the 2020 growing season caused some viticultural concerns from the very beginning. But thanks to the intuition and exertions of our very dedicated vineyard team, this year has turned out to be extraordinary. To put this vintage in perspective, Patrick Möllendorf, head winemaker at Villa Wolf, commented that 2020 “reminds him a lot of that harmonious 2012 vintage, which had conditions that were almost as ideal as this year and produced wines that now show enormous aging potential.”
The year started out quite rainy, which was actually a welcome blessing for the vines and the soil after two very dry years, and it gave us a very positive start. From May onward, the weather showed its beautiful side, with moderate temperatures and sufficient rainfall, which allowed the vines to develop at a modest pace. Flowering was completed without any issues around May 30, which was nine days earlier than average. The weather conditions were very good during this period, which played a major role in determining the course of the vintage.
In general, the summer showed its temperate side, and the nights in particular remained cool until July. This had a positive effect on the growth of the vine and the development of aroma expression. Due to the early budbreak and flowering, we worried that we’d have a very early harvest, meaning a correspondingly short ripening period, which is not ideal for full flavor development. Accordingly, we undertook a variety of measures to delay fruit maturation, and are confident that these efforts will pay off in full later, when we see the finished wines.
One of the first things we did was to remove leaves very early in the flowering. The point of this was to create a looser grape structure and maintain good acidity through the ripening period. In our Pinot Noir vineyards, we also deliberately reduced the yield by carefully cutting away part of the developing grape cluster in order to obtain a more open structure later as the fruit ripened fully. This sacrificed part of the yield, but we felt it was necessary in order to increase the quality of the fruit.
In our estate vineyards we intentionally refrained from trimming the tips of the vines, and instead chose to wrap the long shoots around the top wire. This helped to maintain the vines’ enzymatic balance, while preventing too much vegetative growth. It was an extraordinary amount of hand work, but it kept the canopy light and loose, which helps to delay the ripening so that we get longer hang time, for better flavor development, but without too much potential alcohol.
After all of our painstaking efforts in the vineyards, it was with great enthusiasm that, on September 5, we started picking the first grapes for our Riesling Sekt Brut, which come from our Wachenheimer Goldbächel vineyard. The beautiful summer weather stayed with us, with sunny temperatures around 25 degrees C and generally dry conditions. That made it easy for us and the team to harvest the vineyards at a relaxed pace.
On September 8, we harvested the Pinot Noir from Wachenheimer Belz, our monopole vineyard with limestone soil that is unique for the area. The grapes were very small and thick-skinned, so that they not only tasted wonderful, but you could already see the potential of this outstanding vintage, even at this early stage. Since we had done a lot of work to delay the ripening, we were able to approach the remaining Riesling vineyards in a deliberate manner, and without time pressure. The acidity was remarkably stable and, thanks to the cool nights, we were able to allow the grapes to ripen for a longer period on the vine without risking overly high sugar levels.
Toward the end of the harvest there was a rapid change in weather, which led to cooler, rainy conditions. Thankfully, this was not a problem, due to the many viticultural measures we had taken throughout the year. Our organically farmed Riesling vines were very healthy and the fruit had not yet reached the optimal level of maturity, so the rain and cool temperatures were not a threat to our harvest. On September 22 and 23, we picked wonderfully healthy grapes in the Grosse Lage (grand cru) Pechstein vineyard, in the neighboring village of Forst. We wrapped up the 2020 harvest on October 1, in the excellent Wachenheimer Königswingert vineyard.
In the cellar, the musts are very dense and concentrated, with all the stuffing and character to produce excellent wines. We see great potential in this vintage, and are very much looking forward to the opportunity to show you our wines from 2020 when they are ready for release.