At the end of August last year, I was stood in the Rheinhessen, engaged in polite conversation, all the while conscious of the rising, prickling sunburn on my skin. 2022 had been hot and dry from the off. From May through to the end of August, records had tumbled as Germany sweltered in the hottest year on record.
All the producers on our trip spoke of heat stress, particularly for the young vines. Katharina Prüm believes that green harvests through the season were essential. Not to increase the concentration of the fruit – but “to relax the plants, not just for this year but for the long term.” Oliver Haag concurred and said that almost five thousand of his vines perished. He had planted them in 2021. A one year old vine cannot withstand such conditions. By the end of August, most producers were expecting an opulent vintage, along the lines of 2018, but with less concentration. For producers of predominantly fruity wines, the hope was that if temperatures dropped and it stayed dry, then they’d potentially have a shot at late harvest, noble sweets.
In the end, neither proved to pass. By the end of August, prolonged heat meant that sugar ripening had slowed right down, and acidity was in high stasis. When the first of the rains arrived in September, the vines unlocked, and sugar levels gradually rose. A stop-start harvest, interspersed with more wet weather, continued into October. The net result was a low must-weight crop on the whole. Christoph Schaefer explained that “our job was to find the elegance and enhance the depth of the wine.”
Early chatter about the vintage was that the vineyards had taken a beating. If not quite written off, hopes were contained. But amid all the talk on the outside, producers beavered away inside, watching the juices come to life, the wines born free of expectation, free to be what they wanted to be. If summer was a stifling night on the dance floor, the thick heat radiating from one person to the next; intense, somehow glorious; harvest was the moment the doors burst open to greedy gulps of fresh air and water.
The 2022 Rieslings have surprised everybody. Animated and open, acidity levels sit between 2019 and 2020 – these are not flabby wines, nor are they diluted. Christopher Loewen describes them as “salty, not green.” Alcohols are all on the lighter side and the wines are brilliantly fresh. It is a vintage that has a clear, accessible feel – fruits, flowers, and that famous German “minerality” dance with all the energy you’d expect. Structures correspond well to the individual quality level, and there are plenty of ageworthy 2022s. However, the generally lower sugar levels and next to no botrytis does mean a dearth of noble sweets. The few that have been bottled will sweep you off your feet.
At Grosses Gewächs level, there are many intricate, precise wines that don’t feel in the slightest bit heavy. The likes of Emrich-Schönleber, Battenfeld Spanier, Rebholz and Dönnhoff continue to produce truly world class, ageworthy, complex dry whites that deserve a place in any great collection. The good news is that the 2022s will show genuine complexity and finesse within a few years and hold for a whole lot longer.
Mark Dearing, Germany Buyer
Justerini & Brooks, September 2023.
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