Czech winemakers brace themselves for low harvest

12-10-2010

Winemakers in Moravia and Bohemia are bracing themselves for an extremely low harvest this year, with estimates that crop levels could be 50 or even 80 percent lower than usual. A combination of severe weather conditions throughout the year is being blamed for poor grape yields, which are expected to lead to an increase in the prices of Czech wines next year.

Very low temperatures at the beginning of the year, a rainy spring and extremely hot spells in the summer are the major factors behind the very low grape harvest expected this year. This autumn, winemakers are hoping to pick some 40,000 tons of grapes, less than half the usual harvest. But some wine growers are bracing for even lower yields than that. Miroslav Kovacs owns a winery in Novosedly in southern Moravia, the country’s largest wine-growing region.

“If it was half it would be nice, but the losses are worse than that. In some vineyards, we will only harvest 30 percent of what we did in recent years. There were two major factors: deep frost at the beginning of the year, with temperatures of minus 22 or 23 degrees that froze the buds on vine bushes; and widespread fungal diseases which were too resistant to be stopped even with chemicals. That destroyed entire grapes.”

The drop in crops should not threaten the livelihoods of Czech wine producers, according to the head of their association, Jiří Sedlo. They will be able to rely on wine from previous vintages. But the low harvest will most likely drive up wine prices. Kateřina Kafková is one of the owners of Vinařství Chrámce, a medium-sized vinery in northern Bohemia.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK “I think our harvest will be about 20 percent lower. I hope it won’t affect our company because we have wine from the vintages of 2007, 2008 and 2009, so we have enough wine for this year. But I think there will be problems with the quality of certain varieties of wine. I think that prices will be higher than last year, my estimate is at least 10 percent.”

Some of the wine varieties are more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions than others. One of the most popular white strains, Gruner Veltliner, for example, has been hit very hard. Other varieties are more resistant.

Smaller yields also mean that grapes will have higher sugar content, which in turn means the wine will be of better quality. Jaroslav Springer runs the south Moravian vinery Springer and Stapleton which specializes in the Pinot Noir variety.

“I think that this year’s harvest will be very small – one third of what we usually get, according to my estimates, as we are almost done harvesting. But we’ve picked nearly all of our Pinot Noir, and if I don’t spoil it in the cellar, it could be very interesting wine. I’m really looking forward to that.”

According to a recently re-established tradition, people will be able to sample this year’s wine on St Martin’s Day, which is November 11. Despite the low harvest, winemakers are hoping to sell a record 1.6 million bottles of young wine.

12-10-2010