2003 was a year of extreme weather conditions marked by drought and record-high temperatures. The results are remarkable: thick, heavy, full-bodied wines with soft tannins.
The winter was long and cold, lacking bouts of extremely low temperatures however. Lake Neusiedl was still frozen at the beginning of March. Temperatures then began rising and the buds broke as expected, in late April. The drought began early in the year, with average precipitation levels of 0.6 mm in February, 4.4 mm in March and 16.3 mm in April. High temperatures in May caused the flowering to begin very quickly. By May 10th, the temperature had already climbed above 30° C on five separate days. The flowering was completed on June 5th. The vegetation continued to thrive due to the heat and low precipitation levels.
The red wine grapes had already begun turning color by mid-July so that the final stage of vineyard work could be carried out: the reduction of the grapes. Record-high temperatures made the necessary work very difficult. Both the vintner and the grapes were in desperate need of shade. A selective trimming of the vines was called for to keep the grapes from being scorched.
Despite the adverse conditions, the grapes ripened evenly, which resulted in a perfectly healthy grape supply. Due to the dry weather, the grapes remained small and developed very thick skins. The ultimate conditions for great wines were in place: sweet, small, exceedingly healthy grapes with thick skins.
Statistics from 2003 help to illustrate the intensity of the drought: the average precipitation level during the past eight years was 561.18 mm, but in 2003 a total of only 379 mm of rainfall was recorded. The warmest day of the year was August 13th, with a high of 38.5° C.
The harvest was underway by the last week of August. The Zweigelt grapes measured must-sugar levels of 20° KMW at this time. Later maturing grapes, like Blaufränkisch, ripened especially well. The weather remained stable and warm so that the harvest of the Zantho wines could be completed within 4 weeks.
Strong and spicy red wines deep and dark in color and mild and soft on the palate are the trademarks of this year's vintage. It is reassuring for us producers to know that following the fine vintage of 2002, an excellent wine has been filled in the barrels in 2003.