I find myself repeating this same phrase often when discussing the progression of veraison. What a difference two weeks can make! Unfortunately, the respite from the heat of late July and early August wasn’t long lasting. As I pen this update, temperatures across Italy have soared again. San Gimignano topped 103 degrees this week and further south near Rome temperatures reached 116 (about 43C) over the same time frame. The damage to the vines is simply unavoidable and irreversible at these maximum temperatures even if there is adequate rain. Already the Italian Governmental forecast is for yields to be 8% lower than 2018. However, most winemakers I’ve spoken to since the beginning of August are acknowledging that the impact will be greater than that.
The photos below tell the tale – and look eerily like my coverage of the 2017 Harvest.
The first image is from earlier in the month and from much farther north. Sent in by Chiara Boschis, these are healthy looking Nebbiolo grapes in Barolo. Taken in early August, these grapes are hanging in the famed Cannubi vineyard in Piedmont. Nebbiolo is typically a slow, long ripening grape often harvested in late October. It will be interesting to follow how this vineyard progresses. Lying much further North and at a higher altitude, it has so far been spared from the brunt of the blistering heat.
The next image is from an icon. Below are Sangiovese Grosso grapes hanging at Tenuta Greppo, the famed farm of Biondi Santi. What’s interesting here is the variation in the maturation of the clusters. The one cluster, which is more exposed to the sunlight it almost completely “pink” and darkening. The cluster next to it, under the leaf, still has a sizeable amount of green grapes.
Here’s a second image of Sangiovese Grosso from Montalcino; this time from Mastrojanni. This was from earlier this month and if these grapes have survived the heat, they should be finished changing color by now.
The next series of images were sent in by our friend Silvia Vannucci of Piaggia. North west of Firenze, in the Carmignano DOCG, Piaggia’s grapes are ripening perfectly at this time – especially the Merlot which is thus far not been impacted from the heat. The first three images are Sangiovese and the last is Merlot.
This last shot is of Piaggia’s Merlot.
Turning to Chianti Classico, where there temperatures have also risen to well over 100 degrees, these two images sent in by the team at Gagliole illustrate how they are combating the high heat. In these images, you can see an organic compound called Kaolin that has been sprayed on the leaves and fruit. Kaolin is naturally derived from clay and when sprayed on the vines, imparts a white film of nanoparticles that help reflect sunlight, thereby lowering the temperatures on the leaves and clusters.
Next is a series of striking images sent in by winemaker Daniele Rosti of Campochiarenti in San Gimignano. Unfortunately, these do not illustrate good news. The plight of the grape farmer is never an easy one and this year, Mother Nature once again is making her presence felt. These were taken around August 8th.
In the image below, you see a healthy Vernaccia vine and grapes. However, the most interesting aspect is the filter applied by Daniele’s infrared thermometer. The cross hairs indicate the difference in temperature between sunlight and shade.
The next picture is the exact same image taken through the thermometers infrared feature. Blue is cooler – yellow and orange hotter. It’s a striking illustration of what the vines are undergoing.
Finally, the unfortunate result of all this heat on some of the Vernaccia vines. The picture below may be a bit misleading without explanation. These are not red grapes that partially ripened. These are white Vernaccia grapes that have been sunburned and whose juice inside the berries has evaporated. When that happens, it’s as if the grape turns to “wood” and reveals a brownish color. Raisins on the vine. Darmagi. Mi dispiace Daniele. It breaks my heart to see this.
Here are some further images received on August 13th from Campochiarenti also illustrating the impact of the heat on the vineyard floor and the grapes. The temperature varies from 40c (110F) to 54c (138F). Absolutely amazing.
The next two images reveal healthy red grapes and vines maturing well. The only caveat thus far is that the berries are smaller than normal. Both images are of the same vine. The first is the side exposed to the morning sunlight and the second is the side exposed to the afternoon sun.
In closing this update, I’ll just say once again that let’s hope for a break in the heat wave so this vintage can retain some freshness and not develop the character of 2009 or 2017. The winemakers skill can only go so far to create fresh wines when temperatures remain this high for this long.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Harvest Report – 2019
Just a few months ago when I was with Francesco Buffi of Baricci, he told me how anxious he felt with the current weather affecting Montalcino. He lamented how hot it was saying “this is the weather of late July, not early June. If this heat doesn’t subside soon, the vines will begin slowing down.” Shortly after my visit to the area in mid-June a heat wave commenced that lasted almost 8 days. Temperatures ranged from 100-105 degrees as far north as Chianti and further south in Rome, 120 degrees was reached. While the heat did break and much needed rains arrived, as I begin this report (7/24) once again temperatures have reached triple digits in San Gimiganano.
After the frosts of 2017 and the tumult of 2018, producers were hoping for a more even growing season. In 2019, that hasn’t really been the case. Across the country, Italy experienced the warmest March on record. The vines awakened from their winter slumber early and the growing season was on. Almost instantly, winemakers were telling me that the bud break was early and reminded them of 2017. Fears of frost were real but thankfully that abated by late April.
As the calendar turned to May, Italy witnessed the coldest and wettest May ever. The air was humid, foggy and damp. Winemakers began taking measures to counter mildew and fungus on their growing vines – paying extra attention to the underside of the vine leaves that are not exposed to as much air flow and sun. As May waned, things moderated and the sun came out leading to the heat wave of June mentioned at the outset of this piece.
Today is August 1st. The pictures below were sent to me over the past week. Primarily of Sangiovese, you can see varying stages of ripeness dependent mostly upon the altitude of the vineyard where the grapes are planted. The heat has ended and some gentle rains arrived in late July providing much needed water to the stressed vines.
Stay tuned for more updates to this Feature in coming weeks. The race is on!
In the photo above captured by General Manager Laura Gray, you can see healthy Sangiovese Grosso resting nicely on the vines. Le Due Porte is Il Palazzone’s highest vineyard and the grapes have not begun turning color. In their lower lying vineyards, invaiatura has begun.
Another example from Montalcino captured from our friend Liam during his recent trip. Castiglione del Bosco’s vineyards are mostly lower lying in the southern region of the zone. This photo is about two weeks old and there is no change in color. However, in the center right of the photo, you can see a few of the leaves that have browned under the stress of the hot and dry conditions.
Here’s our first great contrast! In this image sent from our friend and winemaker Emiliano Falsini, you can see Primitivo hanging in Puglia and note the advanced degree of the color. These grapes look great. Emiliano sent this over in mid-July. By now, these will be completely purple and heading toward phenolic ripeness.
Yet another contrasting image. The above was taken by Daniele Rosti of Campochiarenti in late July. Daniele’s vineyards are highly elevated near San Gimignano and you can see just one berry that has begun veraison. If the deer leave the fruit alone, Daniele is hoping for a wonderful quality harvest. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and we’ve illustrated that below.
Daniele sent this photo from late July to illustrate how hot and dry the weather has been on his vineyards. Here the soil is cracked in several places and split wide enough to insert a pair of pruning shears! Much needed rain also arrived in San Gimignano and the temperatures have moderated. All are hoping this trend continues for the balance of the vintage.
Here’s an image depicting the trial of the farmer. This is a perfectly healthy grapevine with no grapes. Why? Earlier this Spring, the baby shoots that blossomed and would have eventually produced grapes, were eaten by deer. They love the tender, grassy shoots. The problem is, when that happens, the vine isn’t capable of bearing fruit. Gone before it even began!
The last two images are from two prominent producers in the southern most commune of Chianti Classico; Castelnuovo Berardenga.
This image was sent over by proprietor Lia Tolaini and shows amazing progress on these lovely Sangiovese grapes in their Block 7 vineyard. If all progresses well, these will be used for the Montebello Chianti Classico.
The image below is from Felsina. Essentially a “neighbor” of Tolaini, it’s interesting to see the difference in the grape bunches. Again, the exposure and the altitude, even when relatively similar, can have an incredible impact on ripening.
As always, this article will be updated as more reports arrive and conditions warrant. Stay tuned and to all my winemaker friends, buona fortuna!