The Alsace Vintage Years

Year 2003

Following on from a scorching summer, this vintage year will go down in Alsace wine history as being a vintage year with extraordinary earliness … literally.  Because you have to return to 1540 to find comparable weather conditions!

An extra-ordinary vintage year

The climate

We could almost forget that it’s nature who decides on a vintage year’s quality. In 2003, it got a real kick out of reminding us! As opposed to the trend of these last years, the 2002/2003 was harsh with long periods of frost in January and February. In March, the mild temperatures allowed for early budding at the beginning of the month of April. Winter still reared its head during this period with spring frosts which caused damage in the early-ripening parcels. Then the exceptional temperatures recorded during the months of May and June resulted in the flowering being three weeks early, which happened in a very consistent manner around June 3.

Summer was particularly warm and dry. During the month of August, temperatures were over 40°C for nearly 15 days! The rainfall was little, even non-existent, forcing the vines to use their deep-rooted water reserves which entailed delayed ripening on light soils. Some sectors of the wine-growing region also suffered from hail storms causing serious damage. Of course all these factors contributed to rethinking the predicted volume of harvestable grapes and most of all to reinforce the ripeness process.

The harvest

From a quality standpoint, the grapes had excellent health maintained by the unusual dryness during the summer which curbed the development of cryptogrammic diseases. This year the low acidity of must justified the authorisation of acidification, exceptionally granted by the European Union.

The harvest dates were remarkably early:

  • August 25 for the Crémant d’Alsace appellation
  • September 8 f or the Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru appellations
  • September 15 for the Vendanges Tardives and Sélections de Grains Nobles indications.

The overall volume harvested reached 1,004,000 hl, down from 18% compared to last year. This volume includes 822,900 hl (- 19%) for AOC Alsace, 40,500 hl (- 8%) for AOC Alsace Grand Cru and 140,000 hl (-15%) for AOC Crémant d’Alsace. If the production of Vendanges Tardives (15,400 hl) is up slightly, the excellent health state considerably limited the possibility of producing Sélections de Grains Nobles (1000 hl).

The wines

Despite uncertainties related to unequal ripeness and the difficulties with vinification, this vintage year has some great surprises in store. Sylvaner and Muscat d’Alsace are part of these surprises with ripe grape properties. Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, whose acidity quickly dropped, were harvested very fast in August. Riesling benefited from some little rainfall at the beginning of the month of September allowing it to glide over the delayed ripening hurdle encountered here and there on light soils. Wines from this variety are the great successes of this vintage year. Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are rich with low acidity. Pinot Noir fully took advantage of the exceptional climate and has some beautiful colours.

CIVA: Interprofessional Committee of Alsace Wine
March 2004

Tasting notes

Burlenberg 2003 - Marcel Deiss

Complantation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Beurrot, the wine is flavoured, intense with a nose which is wild, roasted and very spicy. The palate is smooth, robust with a strong concentration and ripe tannins which are fairly fatty. A long finish with hints of black fruits and spices. A great red wine with keeping potential. (Last tasted in April, 2008)

Riesling Burgreben 2003 - Marc Tempé

Originally from a marl-limestone-sandstone soil further down from the village of Zellenberg, Burgreben is a late-ripening terroir generally planted with Gewurztraminer. Harvested when perfectly ripe and aged for more than two year in casks, this Riesling is a wine flavoured with aromas of citronella, dense and fatty on the palate with enough acidity to maintain a great balance. A cuvée has been put away for twenty years with no problems. (Last tasted in April, 2007)

2003 was an all-out extreme vintage year with a heat-wave summer requiring very early harvest but which produced balanced and often atypical white wines as well as particularly coloured red wines. The wines intended to be consumed quickly were harvested early, allowing them to preserve enough acidity but their fragile balance often resulted in quick ageing. The most successful cuvées were once again those which were harvested later, allowing for perfect psychological ripeness risking high alcohol levels, even sensitive residual sugar. An example with two wines harvested later and aged on their lees for a long time.

Thierry MEYER
Wine Instructor, Founder of L’Oenothèque Alsace (independent wine resource centre

The Alsace Vintage Years

There are never two harvests which are alike! Each year, the different climatic conditions impose a natural framework which wine-makers learn to manage. The vintage year transmits these variations into the wine quality perception. It furthermore provides indications for how long it should age once bottled.

Review the last 20 vintage years and those which have entered into the legend of great wines: