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Drought, costs, labor: many unknowns about the 2022 harvest, at the start between Sicily and Franciacorta

Riccardo Cotarella (Assoenologi): “it takes rains in a few days to recover the season”. Coldiretti: “production at -10% on 2021”
ASSOENOLOGI, Coldiretti, drought, HARVEST, ITALY, WINE, News
The harvest in Franciacorta (ph: Fabio Cattabiani)

The first bunches of the 2022 harvest have already been harvested in Sicily (the first to start were the Settesoli and Ermes cooperatives), in this torrid summer, in these days, while in these hours the harvest has also started in Franciacorta, in the Faccoli winery. According to Coldiretti, who tells of a harvest that started “at least seven days earlier than last year” and with the drought and the heat over 40 degrees that cut production by 10% at national level with the vineyards a tough test even from hot nights and very high minimum temperatures that did not allow the bunches to take a bit of climate “breath” with the traditional temperature change”. A first quantitative estimate, therefore, to be taken for what it is but which seems decidedly optimistic, for a climatic trend that is really starting to worry the supply chain, and to give substance to the concerns of producers already collected in these days by WineNews. As the words of the president of Assoenologi and co-president of the Union Internationale des Oenologue, Riccardo Cotarella testify. “Climate change is putting the entire agricultural sector to the test, and speaking of viticulture, we are witnessing a truly anomalous and extraordinary season. It resembles that of 2003, but this is a much harsher and deeper drought, which is joined by another dangerous element, which are the high temperatures which, together with the drought, constitute an environment that is certainly not suitable for the vine to bear fruit in the best possible way”.
“We have been witnessing the absence of rain for months now, practically since last winter. In spring – recalls Cotarella - we only recorded local rains without great significance, so much so that they evaporate as soon as they touch the ground. But we must note that the vine is a very resistant plant, it proves to be able to adapt to even slightly adverse climates such as this year’s”, underlines Cotarella, who recalls that there are “territories that suffer much more and others less and this depends on the type of soil and the geographical exposure of the vineyards and this means that the examination cannot be generalized to the whole country without any distinction. Overall, until today the vine has held up quite well”. But the hard part starts now: “everything will depend on what awaits us in the next few days, when the plant will require an important quantity of water from the soil, not only to keep its vegetation alive, but also to feed the many berries of the bunches that the vine has produced. If within a few days we have rains we still have time to recover the season, if it doesn’t happen then we will have problems. If it does not rain we will witness the phenomenon in which the plant will require, even from its berries, the little water that it was able to give it. This is the worst of all forecasts, we hope it will not happen”, explains Cotarella. Which adds: what do you need now? Certainly the professionalism of us oenologists, our knowledge, our experience. It was never the time of do-it-yourself viticulture, least of all right now. Our knowledge, our study paths are fundamental at least to alleviate these harmful effects of climate change. So let’s do our best and give the producers all our assistance, because only we could manage the vineyard in some way so that it does not suffer too much from this extremely negative and hopefully unrepeatable climate change”.
Untill today, however, according to Coldiretti, “Italian production in 2022 is estimated to decrease by 10% at national level for a quantity of around 45.5 million hectoliters but much will depend both on the evolution of temperatures that affect ripening and on the absence of storms and rainstorms that have an impact devastating on the vineyards and on the quantities produced. In Italy - adds the organization - a year of good / excellent quality is expected, even if the trend of the harvest will be greatly influenced by the rest of August and September to confirm the forecasts also quantitatively”.
Still, added Coldiretti, despite the decline at the national level, Italy “it is the first world producer of wine while for the second place there is a challenge between France and Spain, countries that have suffered both damage caused by drought and fires. From north to south of the Peninsula, the harvest traditionally starts with the Pinot and Chardonnay sparkling wine grapes in a path that - states Coldiretti - continues in September and October with Glera for Prosecco and with the great native red grapes Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo and even ends in November with Aglianico and Nerello grapes on 658,000 hectares cultivated nationwide.
“With the harvest in Italy, a system is activated that offers job opportunities to 1.3 million people engaged directly in vineyards, cellars and in commercial distribution, both for those employed in related and service activities - explains the President of Coldiretti Ettore Prandini - but to protect the enormous Italian food and wine heritage, however, the bureaucratic constraints that slow down the hiring of seasonal workers must be overcome as soon as possible”.
Until today in agriculture, according to Coldiretti, only 10,000 seasonal workers out of the 42,000 envisaged by the 2021 flow decree have started working in the countryside. “From Trentino to Veneto passing through Emilia up to Basilicata, the situation has become dramatic. It is not possible that because of the bureaucracy – underlines Prandini - companies lose the work of an entire agricultural year after having also faced the damage of drought and a heavy increase in production costs caused by the war in Ukraine”.
It is a question of ensuring clearances especially for temporary employees who - explains Coldiretti - come from abroad and who cross the border every year for seasonal work and then return to their own country. “It is necessary to introduce an occasional employment contract to allow also the recipients of social safety nets, Italian students and retirees to be able to temporarily collaborate in the activities in the fields”.
But as always, in the thoughts of wine producers and the supply chain, in addition to the vineyard there is the market, which continues to experience a peculiar moment, including an increase in sales (+ 12% exports in the first 4 months of 2022) which clashes with “the traumatic rise in costs, from bottles to caps, from labels to packaging. For the first time, the value of exports of Italian bottles could reach 8 billion euros in 2022 - explains Coldiretti - according to projections also driven by growth in the United States, which is the main market outside the EU. On the European continent, on the other hand, made in Italy wine finds its largest consumer in Germany, but it also grows in the home of our first competitors as France records a strong increase in purchases of Italian bottles (+ 37%) and in the United Kingdom , despite Brexit, consumption jumped by + 31% in the first four months driven by the great success of bubbles, but not only”.
But stopping the race of Italian wine is above all the exponential growth of costs with an average + 35% due to the tension on energy and raw materials generated by the war in Ukraine with unilateral increases by packaging suppliers which - explains Coldiretti - they come to weigh on the budgets for over a billion euros with also difficulties in finding bottling materials. A glass bottle costs more than 30% more than last year, while the price of corks has exceeded 20% for cork ones and even 40% for those of other materials. For cages for sparkling wine corks, the increases are in the order of 20% but for labels and packaging cartons there are respectively increases of 35% and 45%, according to the Coldiretti analysis. Problems also for the purchase of machinery, especially steel ones, prevalent in cellars, for which it has become impossible even to have estimates. Road transport has also increased by 25% to which is added - continues Coldiretti - the worrying situation of container and sea freight costs, with increases ranging from 400% to 1,000%. “To defend the Italian wine heritage it is necessary to intervene to contain the expensive energy and production costs with immediate and structural interventions to plan the future” underlined the president of Coldiretti Ettore Prandini in underlining that “protecting wine means protecting the main driving force for the entire agri-food system not only abroad but also on the domestic market, starting with the tourism sector”.

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