The Alsace Vintage Years

Year 2004

After the extraordinary character of the 2003 vintage year, 2004 seems normal again, deemed reassuring by the professionals.

Back to balance

The climate

Let’s take a look back over this past year. Winter was fairly standard with a slight mild spell at the end of January. However an on-going lack of rain was recorded. At the beginning of the spring, the weather was variable and overcast. The budding started around mid-April, and the continuous drought during the spring made people dread a return to climatic conditions recorded in 2003. Around mid-June, the rainfall and the end of the flowering which was fairly consistent and homogeneous, contributed to help professionals be more confident. However, these very damp conditions resulted in large spurts of powdery mildew requiring the wine-growers to be very vigilant. A good number of companies started undertaking bunch-thinning campaigns in July with a view to best manage the yields of a future harvest which promised to be generous. The month of August was rather contrasted with a lot of rain but the beginning of the month of September had some very favourable anti-cyclonic conditions allowing not only for the ripening to finish but more importantly, to preserve the health state of the grapes.

The harvest

The excellent grape-ripeness at the beginning of the harvest should be noted, as well as their perfect health. This 2004 vintage year had a return back to normal acidity levels, similar to 2003. The abundant rainfall recorded as of October 20 tempered the hopes of a great vintage year with outbreaks of grey rot which made many producers bring in their harvest much quicker to preserve the balance which is so characteristic of this vintage year.

Considering the different ripeness levels between the varieties, the harvest dates set were the following:

  • September 20 for AOC Crémant d’Alsace.
  • September 30 to October 11 for the AOC Alsace and AOC Alsace Grand Cru grape varieties.

The harvest of Vendanges Tardives and Sélections de Grains Nobles could only happen 15 days after the official harvest dates, done per grape variety and per appellation.

The overall harvest volume came to 1,263,564 hl. This volume includes 1,003,183 hl (+3% /average) for AOC Alsace, 45,435 hl (+2.1% / average) for AOC Alsace Grand Cru and 214,946 hl (+35.6% /average) for AOC Crémant d’Alsace. The large production increase of Crémant d’Alsace enabled the restoring of stocks reduced following the high sales recorded for this appellation. The weather conditions at the end of the harvest limited the production of Vendanges Tardives and Sélections de Grains Nobles to respectively 11,059 hl and 1465 hl.

The wines

The Crémant d’Alsace was enthusiastically welcomed by professionals due to it finesse. The wines are wonderfully fresh, complying with the traditional typicity of our appellations. They are very well balanced, fine and especially very aromatic like the Sylvaner, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. These last two varieties proved to among the most successful of this vintage year. Pinot Noir has intense colours and is a little less dense than in 2003, but is still full-bodied and very elegant. Gewurztraminer and especially Pinot Gris, which suffered from the rainy conditions at the end of the harvest, are nonetheless very fruity.

CIVA: Interprofessional Committee of Alsace Wine
Mars 2005

Tasting notes

Grand Cru Hengst Gewurztraminer 2004 - Zind-Humbrecht

An open nose quickly leaving the varietal register (jasmine, lychee) and adopting hints of spices, leather and smoke. The mouth is rich, very intense and mineral, moving towards a dense and dry balance, almost fatty. The finish is long, very robust, spicy and smoky. A dry wine balance marked by the soil, already very expressive young but has keeping potential. (Last tasted in July, 2009)

Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling Vendanges Tardives Trie Spéciale 2004 - Domaine Weinbach

If 2004 was a delicate year to produce great Riesling wines on marl or limestone soils, the most porous soils like granitic Schlossberg provided great maturity for Riesling. A rarer phenomenon in Schlossberg, the rains of October resulted in the rapid development of great quality noble rot, and Riesling berries became pink in just a couple of days. A passage into the older estate parcels located in the middle of the slope gave this unique cuvée production of specially-sorted Vendanges Tardives. This genuine essence of noble rot Riesling with its aromas of candied lemon and pink grapefruit give the wine a crystal-clear purity and fine salinity on the palate, rendering the sweetness discreet and very elegant. A vibrant tribute to the first terroir classed as Grand Cru in Alsace (87 g/l of residual sugar). (Last tasted in November, 2010)

A classic vintage year motivated by a great combination of freshness and maturity, with wines evolving wonderfully when aged if harvested late enough, especially after the rainy periods during the month of October. The late appearance of rot gave intense and often sweet wines as well as being truly outstanding. Illustration with a Gewurztraminer and a Riesling.

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: