***** Updated 9/15/2017*****
Well, what a difference a week makes. Although many producers began harvesting a few weeks ago, many also chose to wait. From Veneto to Brunello, dozens of producers began picking in full force this week and have sent in lots of pictures and reports. Let’s get to it!
Marilisa Allegrini sent this great shot of hand harvesting in Veneto – Corvina grapes for Allegrini’s IGT and potentially for Amarone. As with other parts of the country, she reiterated that while quality appears to be high, quantity is way down.
Over in Brunello, lots of reports came in. In fact, this week I spoke to a few friends that run shops in Montalcino and they both laughingly shared the same story. The town is dead! There is no one here because everyone is out in the vineyards picking. To that end, I also spoke with Giovanna Neri from Col di Lamo. She began harvesting this week and reported a similar story. The berries of each cluster are very small and the crop size is greatly reduced but what survived is of very high quality. Only time will tell.
Podere Le Ripi is also harvesting in full force. They sent over the next two images below.
The Brunello producer Casa Raia also sent over some images of harvest; which as everyone knows is hard, serious work. But that doesn’t mean there cannot be some fun too when the whole family gets involved.
A bit north in Chianti Classico, Valeria Losi from Querciavalle sent this image of Trebbiano that came in last week. They are now picking Sangiovese and Merlot as harvest continues. Also from Chianti, Castello d’Albola began harvesting Sangiovese that they are very happy with; again, despite the very small berry size and lower than normal yields.
We will likely have one more update coming next week as producers in Piedmont and Trentino close out their harvest. In speaking with Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga from Tenuta San Leonardo, he confirmed that Sauvignon Blanc was already harvested in excellent quality and they were waiting on the late ripening red grapes. We will keep you posted.
***** End of Update *****
***** Updated 9/8/2017 *****
The full text of the original article is still below for those that would like to reference it. As I mentioned then, this is a living breathing capture of the current harvest and as we get updates in from across Italy, we are going to share.
We begin with an update from Daniele Rosti, winemaker and owner at Campochiarenti in San Gimignano. He sent in these two pictures of Sangiovese hanging as of August 31, 2017. At that time, he thought he was 10 days away from harvesting. However, with the late blast of summer heat, he brought Sangiovese in on September 5th.
The second image from Campochiarenti is not as good. Here you can see shriveled grapes on the vine; a product of the heat that reached 120 degrees in San Gimignano. Despite the extremely difficult conditions, Rosti still expects to harvest enough healthy fruit to achieve 50-60% of his normal production.
Next up, we have a report in from Piedmont where Giorgio Rivetti, the owner of Contratto and La Spinetta gives us his overview of the 2017 Vendemmia. Grazie Giorgio!
“Grazie a te Giovanni! 2017 has been one of the strangest vintages that I have experienced so far. A lot of people currently say that 2017 vintage is similar to 2003, but that is absolutely not the case.
First of all, 2003 was a dry vintage from the beginning of the year onwards, while this year we have had big amounts of snow in January and February, followed by a lot of rain until the end of May. Thus 2017 has captured enough water in the ground for the fruit to ripen. Just young vines were suffering a bit due to the hot June, July and August. Younger vines not only suffer because of its superficial roots, but because some wine producers did not prune and reduce production enough for the vine to resist the heat. With older vines, this Summer has done no damage. On the contrary, the fruit looks great and so do the vines, as none were showing yellow leaves. But yields are low, as each grape has less juice than in the average vintage.
The biggest problem in 2017 was not the heat, but the frost in the middle of April. In some vineyards the temperatures went down to minus five degrees and damaged the plants. It was very unusual, because not only vineyards in low elevation got damaged by the frost, but also some locations like our Bossolasco Contratto vineyards at 700 meters a.s.l. This scenario is something that I, or any of the farmers that I know, have ever experienced.
The harvest for us at Contratto is long finished and at La Spinetta we are through with all the whites and the Barbera. We will start with Nebbiolo this weekend and should have all the fruit in by the middle of September, which is exactly one month earlier than normal. That said, for some vineyards yields were 50% less than in an average vintage.”
Further south in Chianti Classico harvest is fully underway at Felsina.
Further south in Montalcino, producers were also harvesting Sangiovese. Caprili, Il Palazzone, Romitorio, and many others are nearly finished. Here in this image sent by Roberto Campinoti of Le Ragnaie, you can see employees hand harvesting Sangiovese Grosso.
Finally, I caught up with Enrico Viglierchio, the General Manager of Castello Banfi who offered up his assessment of the vintage conditions.
“This is going to be a very difficult, challenging and very variable harvest!!! The climate was very unusual with the lowest level of rain since ever remembered and combined with very high temperatures over the entire month of August. We are experiencing a drastic reduction in quantity even if, due to the large investment in drip irrigation done over the years, we have been able to support our vineyards and to have good quality grapes.
We have completed the whites and we are going to complete Merlot and Syrah shortly. Merlot is probably the variety that most suffered in this climate while the Syrah is very good, even if quantity is very small. Over the last weekend the climate changed dramatically. We had 30 mm of rain and temperatures dropped of 12-15 degrees celsius. We are now having very fresh air with very good temperature differences between day and night. This is very positive for the proper maturation of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. We are now slowing down the harvesting and waiting for a better phenological maturation of the grapes. We can afford to due this because the plants are healthy and not yellowed from the heat. I think that the next two/three weeks will be very critical for late red varieties. “
***** End of Update *****
Depending upon your outlook, Vendemmia 2017 will go down in the diary of grape harvests as a year to be forgotten, or never to be forgotten. Quite simply, it has been a year of remarkable extremes never before seen across Italy.
As usual, I’ve been keeping in touch with winemakers across Italy, monitoring the weather and the harvest progression to bring you our Annual Harvest Report. Like it’s predecessors, this feature is intended to be a “living-breathing” document that will be updated as developments warrant.
2017 started off on a positive note. After a slightly mild but normal winter added much needed water reserves to the soil, a very mild March awakened the vines from their winter slumber and started the growing season earlier than normal. This turned out not to be the blessing many had hoped for because as the calendar turned to April, the temperatures plummeted and heavy frosts descended upon much of Tuscany. Producers stretching from Montepulciano and Montalcino to San Gimignano and Piedmont reported potential crop losses of up to 40%.
In San Gimignano, winemaker Daniele Rosti of Campochiarenti explained in further detail how his vineyards were damaged and affected by the April frosts. Shockingly, he explained that one year of damage can lead to two years with no grapes to harvest. Essentially, each vine shoot has two buds protruding from it; the bud that grows grapes, and the “sleeping bud” which will simply grow foliage. In Rosti’s case, the buds growing grapes were destroyed by the frost. Although the “sleeping bud” survived and continued to grow, Rosti explained that if the deer come and eat the foliage from the sleeping bud, then they will have no production for next year as well. To hear Daniele speak in detail about the frost damage to his vineyards, click through to my Facebook page for videos posted: Frost Damage at Campochiarenti
Many winemakers took to lighting pot fires in between each and every vine row in an effort to combat the cold weather and keep the frost from affecting their vineyards. Yet this comes with several prices; exhaustion from monitoring the fires all night, pollution to the environment and impact on the vineyard and naturally, a monetary cost.
Eventually the calendar turned to May and the frost danger abated. But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Just as winemakers began assessing the percentage of damage to their crops and settled in for the remainder of the growing season, it stopped raining. It stopped raining in May, in June, in July and most of August. Yes, there were showers here and there – but this was a bonafide drought. To make matters worse, in July the heat spiked across Italy unlike no one has ever seen. Rome reached 130 degrees! Tuscany hit 110, 115, even 120 degrees as far north as San Gimignano. And the heat would not relent. These temperatures sustained themselves for almost 10 days. Finally the heat broke and temperatures normalized somewhat ranging between the 80’s and low 90’s, but the stress on the grapes could not be repaired. Sugar levels spiked rapidly and winemakers had to prune plants in ways to try and protect the clusters from the sun. Most winemakers reported that the grapes were 1 to 1 1/2 months ahead of schedule and in early August, coastal Tuscan wineries near Bolgheri and Grosseto began harvesting white grapes. Le Macchiole brought in Chardonnay on August 3rd, Valle delle Rose Vermentino shortly thereafter. The same rang true for Ornellaia and many others. Then in late August, the heat spiked again nearing 100 degrees.
But like the frosts, Mother Nature is fickle and unpredictable.
But with the drought, came animals. Thirsty, thirsty animals. Deer and wild boar have been suffering through the heat wave as well and they have been even more aggressive in seeking out the grapes to find whatever water they can. It’s yet another burden these passionate, driven winemakers must endure.
So as we sit now on the last day of August, producers are harvesting Pinot Noir, Merlot, Nerello Mascalese, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese across all of Italy almost 2 months early. In Umbria, the late ripening Sagrantino is also ahead of schedule. Here are pictures from several winemakers.
From Umbria, consulting winemaker Emiliano Falsini shared these pictures from the Tabarrini estate. If you look at the dates in last years report, much of the harvesting took place in October across Tuscany. In Montefalco, Tabarrini typically harvests Sagrantino in November. This year, it looks like September!
In Montalcino, Giacomo Bartolommei has already harvested his white grapes and this week, began picking Sangiovese Grosso for Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. He told me: “Giovanni, after 2009 and 2011 with the extended heat, temperature spikes and lack of rain, I thought I had seen it all. But 2017 is unlike anything I have ever seen.”
Stay tuned for more. As we receive updates and photos, we will share them!