Harvest grapes

~ An unfortunate familiar image from Campochiarenti in San Gimignano. Deer have made a feast of ripening grapes ~

*****Update September 21, 2020*****

Well, it’s been 17 days since my last update and naturally, quite a bit has changed.  In the south of Italy and in lower lying vineyards, most if not all, white grapes have been harvested.  In many places, red grapes are being picked as I write.  Merlot has been picked in places like Maremma and even central Tuscany.  In Montalcino, many Brunello producers have brought in Sangiovese.  Castello Banfi, Caprili, Le Ragnaie, Collemattoni, Il Palazzone & many others.  Still, this differs in higher altitude places like Chianti Classico. For example, in Radda just now only white grapes are coming in.  Up in Piedmont, white grapes and Dolcetto have been harvested but Nebbiolo still hangs. Harvest is clearly early; having been advanced from the heat by as many as two weeks. Though by and large, the vintage looks excellent.  At least one thing from 2020 will be good!  Off we go….

Harvest Report

~ This image from Poggio Alloro in San Gimignano, within sight of the towers, shows some gorgeous Vernaccia bring brought in ~

This next image from Montalcino reminds us that once again, grape growing is nothing but farming!  And sometimes, you go old school…

Harvest Report 2020

~ Villa i Cipressi in Montalcino uses a horse drawn plow to turn over the grasses and green manure between vine rows ~

Additional images from Montalcino have been sent in by Fattoria dei Barbi, Castello Banfi and Le Ragnaie – all of whom are either ready to bring in Sangiovese at the time of this writing or who have already done so.  Bear in mind that not all of the vineyards for these producers have been harvested.  Clones, exposure and altitude all can vary and all matter.

Harvest Report 2020

~ The best wines begin with hand harvesting. Sangiovese is picked in small baskets at Fattoria dei Barbi ~

In one of Le Ragnaie’s lower (relatively) vineyards, pickers weave their way through the vine rows….

Harvest Report 2020

~ This is perfect weather to harvest…. ~

Finally, our friend Enrico from Castello Banfi sent this picture of Sangiovese hanging shortly before harvest.  This is one of Castello Banfi’s lowest lying vineyards and was harvested over the weekend.

Harvest Report 2020

~ These grapes look amazing! The leaves below the grape line have been removed to facilitate sunlight and ventilation. This picture was dated 9/19 ~

Meanwhile, down in Maremma,  Tua Rita is bringing in Merlot…..

Merlot grapes

~ Hand picked Merlot is loaded into the tractor for transport to the winery ~

The next few shots are always whimsical and I love them; which is why Chiara keeps sending them….  Even though Harvest is rough work, there is always time for fun.

~ Chiara Boschis and some lovely Dolcetto grapes. These were picked over the weekend ~

But of course, she has help!

~ In this collage, the image from top left is from 2 years ago. Bottom left are the same two young ladies re-enacting the scene. On the right, are her two nieces ~

Finally, we bounce to Radda in Chianti where the red grapes still hang.  This weekend, Monteraponi brought in their Trebbiano Toscana.

Monteraponi Harvest Report

~ Sorting Trebbiano carefully. Monteraponi is a special estate. They make a wonderful Trebbiano but their Chianti Classico Riserva Il Campitello is a wine I always seek out ~

Finally, yet another light-hearted moment, though there is truth here for sure.  Day 1 of Harvest 2020 is completed at Monteraponi.  Thank you Alessandra Deina for the image and the team at Monteraponi for the hard work!

~ Forza Michele!! Piano, piano, con calma! ~

Up north, in Piemonte, the team at Pio Cesare sent this update of amazing Nebbiolo grapes still hanging as of 9/21/2020.  They look great!

Harvest Report 2020

~ These grapes likely have a few more weeks left to mature ~

We will have another update in a week or so as Piedmont and Tuscany continue to harvest.  Umbria, with it’s famed Sagrantino will likely be several weeks away still as will many places that pick Cabernet.

*****End of Update ****

*****Update September 4, 2020*****

It’s been a solid three weeks since the original publication of this year’s Harvest Report and naturally, quite a bit has changed.  In that span, I’ve heard from several winemakers across Italy with grapes and vineyards at various points of maturity.  From Abruzzo, where stalwart producer Emidio Pepe has harvested Pecorino to southern Tuscany where Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc have been harvested in many spots as relayed to us by Elisabetta Geppetti during our recent Zoom call. 

In many places, the rising temperatures have been a major problem.  For weeks at a time, temperatures have risen across Tuscany well into the 100s.  Combined with the lack of rain for most of the last half of August, winemakers were beginning to see the early signs of water stress on their vineyards.  Over the last few days, the rains have come.  In fact, Andrea Daldin, winemaker for Lamole di Lamole, recently sat down with my friend Lars Leicht.  Daldin told Lars of being on vacation expecting to return to the vineyards and find them still behind. However, with the recent rains, the vineyards have accelerated their growth; especially the younger vines.  Antonio Zaccheo praised the rain, telling me that it looked like his vines were “reborn”!  Still, in some areas violent thunderstorms ripped through tearing leaves from vines and damaging fruit.  Although the losses were localized, it’s still one more thing these farmers must contend with.

Here are some more images of Harvest2020.

Harvest grapes

~ Preparing to bring in white grapes at Fattoria Le Pupille in Maremma. Elisabetta Geppetti told us this was completed in mid-August ~

Daniele Rosti from Campochiarenti sent in several images.  The first series are FLIR (infrared) images showing the temperatures in his vineyards on the vines and the ground.

~ This image shows the temperature on the foliage of the vines. Even thouugh blue represents a cooler temperature, it’s only relative as this is registering 32.4 degrees C. (94 degrees F) ~

~ This image shows the temperature directly on the surface of the grapes. 43.5 C. is about 116 degrees F. ~

~ In this final shot, this is directly down at the dirt in the vineyard. ALmost 120 degrees F. ~

This sort of heat has an impact.  Even though it may not be widespread or ruin vineyards, the impact of weeks long heat at these temperatures takes its toll.

~ This is a damaged vine at Campochiarenti. Although there are signs of heat damage, this vine is also suffering from an internal fungus that strangles the vine and prevents nutrients from reaching the grapes. The grapes shut down and dry up. Daniele stated this is sometimes caused by extreme heat and lack of water and this year, has been more widespread across Tuscany ~

~ Nature can also be a but whimsical. Here are wonderful looking Sangiovese grapes with a visitor at Caprili in Montalcino ~

Down in Abruzzo, Emidio Pepe has harvested wonderful looking Pecorino and Trebbiano grapes.  This image is only 3 days old.

~ Old school works! Look at that juice flowing from the gentle pressing of feet! ~

Returning to Montalcino, we see these excellent looking Sangiovese grapes hanging at Collemattoni.  They have “green harvested” – a process where grapes that are less than optimal are removed in order to retain only the best grapes for the Brunello.  Hopefully the “presents” will satisfy the deer and cinghiale.

~ Green harvesting grapes have been dropped in this image from September 2, 2020 ~

~ A close-up of remaining grapes at Collemattoni ~

Finally, a wild image sent from Antonio Zaccheo, winemaker for Carpineto.  Look at this…

Grapes in a box

~ Are these blueberries? They sure look like it right? Nope! These are Sangiovese grapes that are being sent to the lab to check for various levels of maturation: Sugar levels, acidity, Ph, etc ~

Here are some grapes in Piedmont that were hit by a recent thunder/hail storm.

~ These were wonderful grapes that are now only best suited to the deer ~

Finally, we’ve talked about boars, deer and weather.  Yet here is another agricultural pest. This one, I can personally feel as these little bastards also go after the sugar in my figs!

~ Yet another pest for Campochiarenti to contend with ~

We will be back with many more photos during our next update which should come in a few weeks.  Fingers crossed for a good continuation of the harvest.  Even though these pictures sometimes portray a stark image, the winemakers I’ve spoken to have told me that the quality is very high in the grapes remaining. They are hopeful for a good conclusion to the vintage.

In bocca a lupo!

****End of Update****


Harvest Report 2020

It’s Harvest Report time!

A wise man once said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Change is the only constant.  And in a year that could not possibly have been more different, unpredictable and bizarre than its predecessors, Harvest 2020 has been remarkably similar to the string of recent vintages. Welcome to this year’s Harvest Report.

Early Spring 2020 started off warm with moderate amounts of rain.  Like Harvest Report 2017, the earlier than ideal bud break was cause for concern to some vintners since the risk of frost damage was prevalent.  Almost like clockwork, weeks later temperatures dipped and there was widespread though scattered damage from frosts.  On my recent Zoom call with Valeria Losi of Querciavalle, she mentioned that they were still assessing the reduced level of production as a result of the frosts.  Thankfully, the damage was not nearly as significant as in 2017.

As Summer took hold in earnest, the growing season progressed nicely.  Blossoming was a week or two earlier than normal depending upon where you were located and at what altitude. Fruit set took hold as normal.  As I write this today (8/10/2020), the temperatures across Tuscany have soared.  For several days it has been routine to find temperatures ranging from 35-40 degrees Celsius on many vineyards.  As a result, winemakers are pruning canopies carefully to protect their fruit and green harvesting to preserve quality.

As usual, animals are an issue. Cinghiale are widespread and damaging and as the photo above clearly illustrates, the deer get their share as well.  In sending the picture below, winemaker Daniele Rosti also told me that the temperatures today have risen to 42 degrees (112 Farenheit) and that the water stress on the vineyards is equivalent to 2017.  This needs to reverse soon.

Nevertheless, on we go!  Into “Invaiatura” and we’ll start in Northern Tuscany.

Campochiarenti Harvest

~ Winemaker Daniele Rosti aims for top quality in his Vernaccia by aggressively green harvesting. Maybe this will satisfy the deer? ~

Roberto Pierazzuoli sent this image in from his estate in Carmignano, Le Farnete.  These grapes are progressing very well, showing deep color and almost completely through veraison.

~ These are Sangiovese grapes in Carmignano on the Pierazzuloi Estate ~

In northern Chianti Classico, winemaker Michele Braganti shared this image from one of his Cru Sangiovese vineyards.  The altitude here is much higher and you can see the variability of colors on these clusters.

Harvest 2020

~ This is a great image because there is so much going on. You can see the variability in the colors as a result of the altitude. However, you can also gain an appreciation for the manner in which the canopy protects the grapes and for the rocky, limestone nature of the soil ~

Further south in Chianti Classico we have images from Castellina in Chianti.  Although both of these properties are further south than Radda, they both possess fairly high elevations. As a result, you can see the relatively similar progress of ripening in the clusters.

Grapes ripening

~ This picture is from Gagliole’s estate in Castellina in Chianti ~

~ This picture is Sangiovese on the Castellare di Castellina estate. Castellare is among the higher Chianti Classico properties and this was taken 6-8 days later than the image from Gagliole. Still, it’s not quite finished. ~

As we head further south in Tuscany toward the Brunello zone, we have pictures from several different producers.  Remember the discussions of sub-zones on the string of recent Zoom calls with Brunello producers?  Now you can see some of the variables discussed in action.  Soil, exposition, grape clone, altitude, age of the vines and canopy management are just some of the factors that effect the progress of these excellent looking grapes.

Harvest 2020

~ Laura Gray shared these next two images from Il Palazzone in Montalcino. Il Palazzone has vineyards throughout the zone. ~

The image below is even more primary with a range of progress and colors.

Harvest 2020

~ Again, in this image you can see the direct result of canopy management as there is shade on the cluster ~

As we move a bit further south in the Brunello zone, we find more advanced coloring.  Although as you will see, it’s not a safe assumption that all invaiatura is created equal.  I spoke with Giacomo Bartolommei from Caprili recently to get an understanding of the pace of this maturation.  He told me that the veraison was early this year, but not by that much.

Harvest 2020

~ These Sangiovese at Caprili are completely through veraison. They will continue to develop to ripeness. You can see at the bottom right of the one cluster, a bit of drying from the heat. Always a challenge! ~

Not far from Caprili is Castello Banfi.  Depending upon the vineyard in question, altitude can be more or less the same. However, in this image you can get a sense of the difference in progress.  These were taken within 3-4 days of each other.

Harvest 2020

~ Castello Banfi sent this image of grapes ripening on August 5th ~

Finally, we go to another Brunello producer that also has vineyards at varying altitudes.  Winemaker Antonio Zaccheo from Carpineto has sent a few images of nicely maturing Sangiovese grapes.  As you can see, they vary in their maturation despite being from the same vineyard!  Even the exposition within a single parcel of land can dictate timing.  Grande Madre Natura!

~ This is also an interesting picture.  You can see multiple clusters on vine rows in the background. ~

And another cluster decidedly more advanced….

Harvest 2020

~ Which one is different than all the rest? This is a wonderful cluster of grapes but as you can see, it’s not quite finished yet despite how it appears. Also, to the left, you can see a nearly complete green cluster ~

I think it was Cosmo Kramer that said: “Mother Nature is a maaad scientist!”   So far, 2020 is bearing that out in many ways.

As with prior Harvest Reports,  I will update this article with new information as it rolls into me from all points across Italy.  So stay tuned and let’s keep fingers crossed that the heat relents and #Harvest2020 finishes well.


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