**** Update August 7, 2018 ****
Wow, what a difference a few weeks make!
Right before the initial release of this article was published, the heat got turned to high in Italy and for the better part of the last three weeks, the temperatures have risen into the triple digits. In other words, the growing season has warmed dramatically and vines, like people, don’t like being shocked. Gradual increases or decreases in temperature are far easier to tolerate. So it remains to be seen how the vines handle these sort of temperatures. As of this update, temperatures are expected to rise back into the high 90s tomorrow. On a good note, there have been plenty of storms to provide water and prevent stress or shutdown on the vines and while that can often include the danger of hail, I have not had any reports of damaging hail storms from producers. Producers have sent some amazing images over the past two weeks so let’s get to our first update on #harvest18.
Monteraponi is located in Radda in Chianti Classico and the above was taken from Braganti’s highest vineyard, Baron Ugo. In the top image, you can clearly see how far advanced the ripening of the grapes has progressed due to the excessive heat during 2017. You can also see the affect on the foliage of the vines. They appear wilted and almost yellowing. In the bottom image, the foliage on the vines is a darker green and much more vibrant looking, plus, the grape clusters have barely begun turning color. Simply an amazing image and a great idea for Michele to capture.
The above image was sent by winemaker Daniele Rosti of Campochiarenti in San Gimignano. Here you can see the results of “Green Harvesting” – reducing the number of clusters on the vines in order for the remaining clusters to better ripen and develop complexity. This results in a finished wine of much higher quality, but of course, comes at a cost since the grapes lying on the ground will now benefit only deer and wild boar. This is green harvested Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
Marilisa Allegrini sent in the above image of beautifully ripening Corvina at her estate in Veneto. As I mentioned originally, North vs. South doesn’t have as much to do with the ripening of grapes as one might think. It’s a factor to be sure, but the altitude of the vineyard, the amount of rain and heat, the timing of pruning during the winter and the varietal itself often play much larger roles.
Coming back a bit further South to the northwestern corner of Tuscany, the above image was sent in by proprietor Silvia Vanucci. These are healthy Merlot grapes which will typically mature earlier in the season than later ripening varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Silvia crafts the best Carmignano and Super Tuscan wines to come from this area of Tuscany and her team has already conducted two rounds of green harvesting to get to this point.
The image above was sent in by winemaker Leonardo Manetti and is of his Sangiovese vineyard located in Greve in Chianti Classcio. Healthy looking grapes and vines and you can see just the beginning of ripening of this Sangiovese. Contrast this to the Baron Ugo photo above where the grapes were mostly green on July 28th. That’s four days later, but from a much higher vineyard even though Greve is further north in Tuscany than Radda; though only slightly so.
Finally, we return to San Gimignano for two final images from Campochiarenti. Daniele Rosti had major damage to his vineyards last year after the Spring frosts in April so he was looking forward to a normal growing season this year. So far, things have been going well. The early rains likely helped the vines deal with the heat descending upon San Gimignano since mid July. As I write this, Daniele told me they expect temperatures in the mid 90s again this week. Long range forecasts for the next 10 days look to bring some relief.
We will have more updates within a few weeks! Salute!
**** End of Update ****
Harvest Report – 2018
I think it was Sherman Potter who famously said: “Welcome to the New Year, may she be a damn sight better than the last one!” I can’t help but think that sentiment is shared by many winemakers. After a turbulent, extreme and destructive 2017 that saw damaging hail and frost, severe drought and triple digit heat, the more moderate beginning to 2018 was welcomed.
The winter of 2018 brought even and normal amounts of snow and rain to Italy’s vineyards and as Spring dawned it remained very cool and rainy. The lower temperatures weren’t a concern but the rainfall was much higher than normal. The biggest challenge under such conditions is preventing mold and rot on the vines, but careful attention to winter pruning and canopy management can prevent those calamities. Toward the end of April the rains moderated, the temperatures warmed and bud break across the regions began normally; and more importantly, in a manner timely enough to prevent concern about frost. As we now head deep into summer and the regular rains have ceased, many will be thankful for those Spring rains that have contributed to water reserves in the soil that the vines will happily tap into should the summer remain dry.
Beginning last week, the week of July 16th, producers began sending images of their grapes beginning the process of veraison. Invaiatura, as it’s called in Italian, means “going toward”; so in this case – heading toward ripening. What’s interesting to note in this early and first installment of our Annual Harvest Report, is the location of the ripening. You will see northern estates ripening sooner than southern estates. The main reason for that seeming anomaly is two fold: First, the grape variety may be one which ripens later and secondly, the vineyard altitude has a significant impact. We will see examples below.
I was recently able to spend quite a bit of time with Gabrielle Pazzaglia, the interim head winemaker of Castello Banfi in Montalcino. Given the above picture, we began discussing whether any of Castello Banfi’s grapes had begun invaiatura. The answer was no. Gabrielle expects earlier ripening grapes like Merlot and Pinot Grigio to begin ripening early next month. In Molino di Sant’Antimo’s case – in Italian, Molino means mill. The estate sits at a very low altitude in the far south east corner of the Brunello DOCG. The vineyards sit on former wheat fields and the area gets very hot. So Molino is about 3-4 weeks ahead of other producers in the region.
Querciavalle is in Castelnuovo Berardenga. Although further north than Montalcino, Castelnuovo is one of the communes furthest south in the Classico zone. It’s one of my favorite communes to buy Chianti Classico from. Note the rocky soils of the vineyard. These contribute a powdery, almost mineral aspect to Querciavalle’s wines.
Our friend Daniele Rosti sent this image of Sangiovese ripening on his estate outside San Gimignano. Daniele’s vineyards are very high, so it’s a bit counter intuitive but as you traverse Tuscany, there are many different clones of Sangiovese – especially when you compare to Montalcino – so it’s not strange to see different stages of ripening. These grapes have a way to go and hopefully will ward off Capriolo and Cinghiale.
Finally, we move further south to the Tuscan Maremma. A unique microclimate unto itself where sun, wind, soil and sea form a terroir not duplicated anywhere else in Tuscany. The estate of Michele Satta, which I chronicled here, sent in this image.
Over the weekend I was talking to Enrico Cerulli of the Cerulli-Spinozzi estate in Abruzzo. Since they are further south in Italy I was curious to what extent his estate had seen invaiatura. Cerulli produces three wines from essentially two grapes; Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Pecorino. Enrico told me that none of the Montepulciano had begun to turn. His estate is very high, but more importantly Montepulciano is a late ripening grape that they usually harvest in October. This is still the beginning for them. The Pecorino has started to speckle and by the end of next month or early September he should be prepared to harvest the white grapes.
Finally, the last image of this first installment comes from another Brunello producer who also owns lower lying vineyards; Castiglione del Bosco
Stay tuned – as always we will have extensive updates to this article as information and conditions permit. Updates will be inserted at the top of this article and dated accordingly.
Salute! and here’s to a great #Harvest18.