Grapes Cluster

~ Young grapes hanging at the Collemattoni Estate in Montalcino. In this picture, dated July 22, 2019 the grapes have just begun turning purple. Veraison, or in Italian, Invaiatura. Soon harvest will be upon us! ~


*****UPDATE 10/10/2019*****

Well, in what is likely our last update for a while, it is usually November before Umbrian producers begin bringing in Sagrantino,  as I speak to more and more winemakers they are striking a decidedly positive tone about vintage 2019.  From Maremma, to Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Carmignano and north to Piemonte, winemakers are harvesting grapes in excellent condition with optimal acidity and physiological ripeness levels.  The one caveat across the board is reduced yields given the periods of high heat, occasional drought and damage from animals.   That said, 2019 is leaving a positive impression across the board.  Today, we share the latest images from all over Italy with you of Vendemmia 2019!

The first two photos are from September 21st;  Sangiovese harvest at Boscarelli in Montepulciano.

~ Destemming and Sorting at Boscarelli ~

~ These Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) look great at Boscarelli ~

Up in Piemonte, Chiara Boschis sent this image in of Nebbiolo hanging in one of my favorite Barolo vineyards, Mosconi.  This picture was taken on September 24th and the grapes have recently been brought in.  Chiara Boschis has also harvested in Cannubi and Pajagallo.

~ Nebbiolo from Mosconi is powerful and masculine. I love it for its brawn and structure but it also displays flinty, dusty tannins that are really sexy ~

The next two shots are from September 27th and come from Le Machioche in Montalcino.  This property is the new undertaking by the Cotarella family.  Here we have gorgeous looking Sangiovese Grosso being picked.

~ Hand harvesting is a must for top quality wine. ~

~ Gorgeous grapes still on the vine – awaiting picking at Le Machioche – Montalcino ~

This next picture, while not exactly of the harvest, shows a vineyard sentinel on the island of Sicily.  Spewing, brooding and hopefully sleeping….

~ Mount Etna on Sicily keeps a watchful eye over Nerello Mascalese vineyards ~

Of course, as we have stated many times, Vendemmia is hard, dirty, tiring work.  But it can also have its fun, light-hearted moments.  Can you tell where this Sangiovese is from?

~ Sangiovese 2019 from Montemaggio ~

And as we have mentioned many times before – harvesting is a family affair that involves the very young and often the very old…

~ 2019 was Amelia’s first harvest! In bocca a lupo regazza! A new tradition is born at Montefioralle in Chianti Classico ~

Not all wines are vinified dry…..  Patience, patience, patience to make the holy Vin Santo………

~ Sangiovese drying on straw mats at Felsina in Castelnuovo Berardenga – Chianti Classico. These grapes will be dried to 1/3 of their weight and then be destined for Vin Santo! ~

The next shot comes from down in the Maremma.   Late ripening Cabernet Franc grapes were brought in at Antinori’s Guado al  Tasso estate just this past week.

~ October 2nd 2019 – Cabernet Franc harvested in Bolgheri at Guado al Tasso ~

Not all Sangiovese is harvested at the same time.  This image, from Felsina which has been harvesting for weeks, was taken only this past Saturday, October 5th.   This Sangiovese is striking for its dark color.

~ These Sangiovese grapes look absolutely perfect. Will they be in Fontalloro? Rancia Riserva? Only time and testing will tell……. ~

All hands on deck!  As I said, Vendemmia is a family affair.  The Pepe’s are done with Trebbiano and Pecorino.  Now?  Montepulciano!

~ Chiara Pepe leads the way in old school grape crushing at Emidio Pepe in Abruzzo ~

One very recent image, again from Saturday the 5th – shows E. Pira e Figli harvesting Nebbiolo in Barolo.  The weather over the past few weeks has been perfect and with rains forecasted for the 7th and 8th across much of Italy, wineries picked before the weather.

~ Nebbiolo harvest for Barolo in Cannubi. Saturday October 5th ~

Finally, we have warned you over and over – those of you who want to “experience a harvest” once in your life – be warned.  The winemakers art begins with back breaking work during harvest and then again in the cellar.  Don’t believe me?

~ Do you know this man? If so, better dial 112 – he may be in need of dire help! Or maybe just a dose of Trebbiano VD.  He makes great wine from his monopole in Radda ~

And with that, we bid adieu to this latest update.   Any future updates on harvest – particularly those of Sagrantino, will likely be pushed out via my social media channels but stay tuned.  One never knows…..

Here’s to 2019!

*****UPDATE 9/20/2019*****

Things have accelerated across Italy over the last two weeks with almost every region involved in some level of harvesting. Still, at this time, the late ripening grapes are still maturing (i.e. Nebbiolo/Sagrantino) and vineyards at the higher elevations are also not ready (i.e. San Gimignano/Areas of Chianti and Brunello).  That said,  we have received some amazing pictures and updates over the last few weeks and will certainly share more as they come in.   Let’s get to it!

The first image comes from winemaker Enrico Pierazzuoli of Tentuta Cantagallo in the Chianti Montalbano zone.  These are both shots of healthy looking grapes that Enrico harvests for his Chianti Montalbano and IGT.

~ These are plump Syrah grapes that have already been harvested as of today 9/20/19 ~

~ Another image from Cantagallo showing lovely Sangiovese grapes approaching maturation ~

From winemaker Daniele Rosti in Campochiarenti came this update.  As of 9/16/19 he was still waiting to harvest both Sangiovese and Vernaccia.  While his Vernaccia crop is reduced in size, he is very pleased with the quality of grapes and mentioned that he may consider bottling a Riserva if all continues to go well.

At the moment, he is randomly sampling up to 200 grapes for ripeness.  This is done by checking the grapes from various vines and various rows and he takes care not to puncture the berry on the vine.  This is done so no juice drips on the undisturbed berries in order to avoid attracting insects and encouraging rot.

~ Carefully snipping samples of Vernaccia di San Gimignano at Campochiarenti to check optimal and even ripeness ~

Hand eye coordination at work…..

~ Sorting Merlot at Le Macchiole for Messorio using a vibrating conveyor belt. As you can see, this is Day 15 of their harvest ~

Down in Abruzzo, winemaker Enrico Cerulli sent this wonderfully fun image of Pecorino being crushed in the old school way.

~ Pecorino Harvest – Abruzzo ~

Over in Umbria, many estates are harvesting Sangiovese and Canaiolo for use in their Montefalco Rosso.  Here’s an interesting image sent from our friends at Scacciadiavoli.

~ Sangiovese Harvest at Scacciadiavoli in Umbria ~

The next image is all the way from Trentino, where Tenuta San Leonardo has sent in this image of perfect Merlot grapes.

~ This is perfect quality. Merlot is used in the estate’s main wine “San Leonardo” but also in its second wine ~

~ Down in the Maremma region of Tuscany, bins stand at the ready on the Ornellaia Estate ~

Back we go to Umbria, where Riccardo Cotarella sent this image of the family picking Merlot for Montiano and other blending wines.  Again, the quality of the Merlot in 2019 seems to be stellar.

~ Hand sorting for Montiano at Famiglia Cotarella in Umbria ~

The next image comes from winemaker Chiara Boschis in Piemonte.  These are wonderful looking Nebbiolo grapes in Barolo, slowly maturing.  This week, Dolcetto was harvested.

~ Slowly ripening Nebbiolo hanging on the vines in Cannubi. As of this writing, Chiara Boschis has already harvested great looking Dolcetto grapes ~

Chiara with some great looking Dolcetto!

~ Buona fortuna Chiara Boschis! ~

Back down in Abruzzo, the Pepe’s continue their time honored technique to crush Trebbiano.

~ This looks like the same picture every year – but it’s not. Just the same dedicated family using a time honored technique to crush Trebbiano ~

Lastly, to conclude this update,  we have Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc harvested in southern Montalcino by Castello Banfi.

~ These hand picked grapes will be loaded onto tractors for transportation to the winery ~

There will be more to come!

*****UPDATE 9/4/2019*****

Another two weeks plus gone by and we are seriously off to the races!  As of this writing, many varietals of white grapes including Grillo in Sicily, Sauvignon Blanc in Maremma and Chardonnay further North have already been brought into wineries across Italy.  Even Pinot Grigio (Yes, it’s a red grape) has been harvested in Piedmont for the production of sparkling wines – both white and rose.  Lower lying vineyards are naturally more advanced than vineyards at higher altitudes.   By and large, the grapes look very good at this point. Generally, winemakers are pleased.

All news is not good however.  After a brief respite in temperatures, things began to heat up again toward the end of August.  Again grapes began to shrivel on vines strapped for water and blistering in the sun. Yields will assuredly be down but as wineries aggressively green harvest, there is optimism for a successful but smaller vintage.  On we go!

First, a fun image from winemaker Giacomo Neri in Montalcino.

Grapes hanging

~ This image is from Giacomo Neri at Casanova di Neri and taken (literally) on the move. Sangiovese Grosso hanging in late August ~

Green harvesting is used for many reasons; to thin crop size so that vines can focus their energy only on the best grapes, to expose the best grapes to sunlight and to minimize the risks from potential disease.  Here at Collemattoni in Montalcino, the process is starkly illustrated.

~ Dropping grapes and leaves at Collemattoni. Another benefit of green harvesting is that it leaves something for the boar and deer to eat. Hopefully that’s where their focus will be ~

Further south, the early maturing Sauvignon Blanc is already in the winery at Ornellaia.  The picture below was taken in late August and these grapes look perfect.

Chardonnay Grapes

~ Great looking Sauvignon Blanc for Ornellaia’s Poggio alle Gazze ~

In Chianti Classico, the estate of Piemaggio has some of the highest vineyards in the DOCG.  Even in this image you can see the occasional shriveled berry in an otherwise amazing looking cluster. Selection will be important come vendemmia.

~ Sangiovese hanging at Piemaggio – Castellina in Chianti. August 2019 ~

To contrast these few early images is a photo sent in by Marilisa Allegrini of her Corvina hanging in Veneto.  This picture was taken in mid-August but these grapes could easily be a month or more away from harvest.

~ You can note that many of the berries are still green and while some are more purple than others, many are only beginning to turn red ~

In an area of western Tuscany, rather near Poggiobonsi, lies Podere Sant’Alberto.  In early August they began harvesting their Chardonnay and sent this wonderful image in.  Hand eye coordination!

~ Chardonnay hand harvested in Poggibonsi ~

Vendemmia always has one rule.  When it’s time to harvest, it’s all hands on deck!  Every able body is contributing. That’s the case at Tenuta Fanti in Montalcino but in this case, that also applies to Green Harvesting as well.  These images came in about a week ago.

~ Everyone gets into the act ~

Great looking Sangiovese Grosso after the green harvest…

~ Fanti’s vineyards are lower lying near Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Here you can see the amount of leaves they have left on the vine to provide some shade to the remaining grapes. ~

As many of my readers know, Felsina is a favorite producer of mine.  In fact, many of you enjoy their sparkling wine.  Here comes the Pinot Nero with which it’s made.  Harvested about a week ago…

~ Felsina is a premium producer in southern Chianti Classico and they have brought in the early maturing Pinot Nero ~

Pinot Nero on the vine at Felsina…

~ A gorgeous cluster! ~

Turning now to Umbria – also in Central Italy.  While it’ll likely be another 2 months before the regions famous Sagrantino grape is ready to be harvested, this image of Chardonnay being harvested was sent in by Argillae a week ago.

~ These grapes are used in two of the estate’s wines; it’s Spumante sparkler is 100% Chardonnay but a small percentage is also used in Argillae’s Orvieto Classico ~

Another image from Argillae shows perfectly ripened and speckled Chardonnay….

~ Picture perfect Chardonnay ripening at Argillae. Note the degree of shading from the leaves on the vine. ~

About a week ago, Michele Satta also began picking his Sauvignon Blanc in Maremma.  Satta’s wine, Costa di Guilia is a wonderful blend of Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc.

~ The white grapes from Maremma are some of the early stars of the 2019 vintage ~

This next series is interesting.  Two photos sent in by Giovanna Neri from Col di Lamo in Montalcino.  The first was taken July 30.  The second, just two weeks ago.

~ Sangiovese Grosso hanging at Col di Lamo – July 30, 2019 ~

And then….

~ Sangiovese Grosso on August 17, 2019 ~

Finally, these shots of Sangiovese Grosso were sent in on August 28th by Enrico Viglierchio, the General Manager of Castello Banfi.  Progress is being made…..

~ Sangiovese Grosso hanging at Castello Banfi – Montalcino August 28th, 2019 ~

More beautiful Sangiovese Grosso grapes, Castello Banfi – August 28th 2019.

~ The second image is from a lower lying vineyard on the Castello Banfi estate. You can see this cluster is slightly farther along and once again, note the leaves shading the grape clusters ~

*****UPDATE 8/13/2019*****

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.

Grapes Ripening

~ Nebbiolo hanging in the Cannubi Vineyard in Piemonte ~

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.

Brunello Grapes

~ Sangiovese Grosso undergoing veraison at Biondi Santi ~

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.

Ripening Grapes

~ Sangiovese Grosso in Montalcino; Mastrojanni  ~

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.

~ Sangiovese grapes in Carmignano ~

~ Sangiovese hanging in Piaggia’s Vineyards – August 6th 2019 ~

~ Closer shot of Sangiovese at Piaggia. August 10th, 2019 ~

This last shot is of Piaggia’s Merlot.

~ These clusters look great. This image is also from August 6th and there are still quite a few green berries present ~

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.

~ Kaolin visible on the leaves of Sangiovese vines at Gagliole – Castellina in Chianti – August 13th 2019 ~

~ Another shot of Kaolin applied to grape clusters at Gagliole ~

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.

Vernaccia Grapes

~ This image is the first “green harvest” undertaken at Campochiarenti. This process removes the inferior grapes from the vines, so that the vines can channel all of their energy into the remaining clusters. You can see the grapes discarded on the ground – for the deer and wild boar hopefully ~

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 exposure of the vines to the sunlight and temperature at Campochiarenti ~

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.

~ Measuring the temperature on the vines and grapes through the infrared filter of a digital thermometer ~

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.

~ Vernaccia grapes at Campochiarenti that have withered and dried under the blistering heat of the last few weeks ~

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 surface temperature of the ground between two vine rows. Note the difference in temperature between the shade and sun ~

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.

~ Morning sunlight, East facing vine row ~

~ Again, the same vine row showing the impact of the West facing 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!

~ Sangiovese Grosso at the Le Due Porte Vineyard of Il Palazzone – Montalcino July 25th 2019 ~

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.

~ Grapes hanging at Castiglione del Bosco ~ Image courtesy of Liam Mycroft ~

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.

Ripening Grapes

~ Primitivo in Puglia – July 2019 ~

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.

~ Sangiovese at Campochiarenti beginning veraison on July 26, 2019 ~

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.

~ The heat and dry conditions have cracked the soil at Campochiarenti in San Gimignano ~

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.

~ Looking for the grapes?  They’re not here!  Victims of the deer who ate the baby shoots earlier this Spring ~

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.

~ Sangiovese at Tolaini in Castelnuovo Berardenga.  July 30, 2019 ~

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.

~ Sangiovese hanging at Felsina in Castelnuovo Berardenga – July 2019 ~

As always, this article will be updated as more reports arrive and conditions warrant.  Stay tuned and to all my winemaker friends, buona fortuna!


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