On 21 April 2017, a cold spell in Uetikon am See on 6.8 hectares destroyed almost the entire first shoots. Erich Meier makes a virtue out of necessity and presses the 2017 vintage for once with grapes from South Tyrol.
In 2017, nature put a huge strain on your plans - what happened?
Because of the warm spring, the vines were already well advanced in their development. Then a cold front on 21 April brought a snowstorm and a breeze - temperatures dropped to minus two degrees. The wetness and the cold immediately afterwards destroyed the first budding - the next morning everything was brown. In total we have a damage of 80 to 90%. Only two protected sites - Pinot Noir Church and Schönfels Räuschling - survived the frost undamaged.
"Altogether we have a damage of 80 to 90%.
What can you do as a winegrower in such a moment?
In such an extreme weather event we are helpless. We tried to protect the vines with fires, but even that didn't help anymore. We had to rebuild the sticks and "feed" each one in three separate passages. Thanks to the excellent summer and a lot of care, the second budding was good and at least brought back between 10 and 20%, depending on the variety. But that is far too little to work economically.
So you don't have less work this year despite your absence?
On the contrary. We even did a lot more work during the whole vegetation period - for a fraction of the harvest. Cutting the affected vines in the winter of 2017/2018 will also be much more expensive and even next year the harvest will be impaired by this loss.
Have you ever experienced such a situation?
Yes, on 18 August 2004 we had a total loss due to hailstorms. At that time, however, we were still at the beginning: we had "only" 4.2 hectares of vines and our customer base was much smaller.
Why did you decide to buy more grapes?
We were faced with the question of offering practically no wine or buying grapes in 2017. We decided not to let our customers down and to work with first-class purchased grapes this year. But even with the purchase and our own grapes still available, we will only get 35% of the usual quantity.
Were there no more grapes to buy in Switzerland?
We have tried to find grapes in Switzerland. It had already been agreed that we would get grapes from a winegrower friend in Thurgau. But on August 1st his vines were completely destroyed by a hailstorm. After that it was impossible to buy high quality grapes on the Swiss market.
Where do the grapes for the 2017 come from?
The grapes come from South Tyrol, where we found an excellent producer by a lucky coincidence. I visited the winery several times to see everything, to personally check the cellar books and to taste wines from the different vineyards. So I had the certainty that everything met my quality standards. We are very grateful to receive these grapes, because there will be a third less wine in Italy this year.
In Uetikon they are gradually switching to organic cultivation - what about the purchased grapes?
The grapes from South Tyrol are already being grown organically. This puts our partner a little ahead of us. The grapes are first-class and of the same quality as our Zürichsee grapes - that's what I personally paid attention to.
How do the grapes get into your cellar?
The word "grapes" is important. Because we don't deliver grape juice, but freshly harvested grapes that we process here in Uetikon am See. The grapes are transported for eight hours in refrigerated trucks and are delivered directly to us in 200 kg boxes.
How does it feel to work with "foreign" grapes?
Of course, I prefer to work with my own grapes. I am proud of our vines here on Lake Zurich and like to have everything under control. But we work with nature and this year everything is different for once. I take the situation as a personal challenge. Above all, it is important to me to create transparency. We stand by our decision to produce a 2017. And our customers should also see clearly on the bottle which wines we have pressed with grapes from South Tyrol.
"Of course, I prefer to work with my own grapes."
Specifically: Which wines are produced with grapes from South Tyrol, which with our own grapes?
Pinot Noir Barrique, Riesling, Räuschling, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier will be pressed this year exclusively with our own grapes. We will assemble the Plural, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Müller-Thurgau from our own grapes and South Tyrolean grapes. There will not be a pure South Tyrolean.
Will your almost 20 years of oenological experience become even more important this year?
Working in the cellar, pressing, spontaneous fermentation, ageing - all these elements are important to me every year. It is always crucial for a first-class wine that the grapes are first-class. And fortunately that is also the case this year.
"We produce vintage wines - everyone is different and unique."
Will the 2017 still be an Erich Meier wine?
The quality of the grapes from South Tyrol is as good as our own, the "terroir" is different, no question. But also our own grapes are different from year to year. We produce vintage wines and each of our vintages is different and unique again.
The winery Erich Meier stands for wines with character – and in 2017 the character will also be influenced by South Tyrol. We are looking forward to the feedback from our customers. And of course I'm also looking forward to the first barrel samples myself.