Allegrini 2018

Harvesting gets to the heart of the matter: with WineNews among the rows of vines of Italy

In Montalcino here are the first crates of grapes, South Tyrol is already in the highlight, and if Bellavista is celebrating, Planeta is midway

There are those who have already finished, and can now ease the tension, or at least transfer it from the vineyard to the cellar, and those who have just started, picking only today the first bunches. The harvest in the Belpaese lives its climax, in some of the main white territories it has already ended a few days ago, while in the major red wine denominations the scissors are warmed up or, in some cases, the first crates are taken to the cellar. In order to take stock, WineNews has photographed the moment through the voice (and communications, ed.) of the Consortia and wineries, all over the peninsula. Starting in Montalcino, where the harvest of Brunello began yesterday - and will last for a month - with the Sangiovese bunches of grapes that are healthy and at the right point of ripeness, thanks also to the regular rains of the last few weeks. “The harvest in 2020 is less abundant than in 2019, but with a quality - said Fabrizio Bindocci, president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino - which, for now, except for unforeseen events, is excellent. The smaller volumes are essentially a choice made by the winemakers, who, as usual, in July made the green harvest by lightening the load on the vines”.
In South Tyrol, the harvest began in early September, with the harvesting of white grapes in the valley bottom areas of Bassa Atesina and in the surroundings of Lake Caldaro, and then continued in the rest of the Autonomous Province, first in the lower altitudes and then in the vineyards at extreme altitudes reaching over 1,000 meters. First to finish in crates, the white grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco, followed by Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer. For the red berry varieties, there are Pinot Noir and Schiava, followed by Merlot, Lagrein and Cabernet. “A good vintage”, explains Hans Terzer, oenologist and president of the South Tyrolean “Kellermeister” Association, “the grapes are healthy and during the last few months, thanks to the favorable weather conditions, we have had no problems with vine diseases. The last weekend was a very tense day because of the bad weather in our region, but now we are confident that the weather will give us the beautiful sunny days and cool nights typical of our wine region”, concludes Terzer. Not only great attention to the quality of the grapes, this harvest 2020 puts under the magnifying glass also and above all the health of the winemakers and of all the people involved in the chain. “In order to guarantee safety and compliance with anti-Covid regulations - says the director of the Consorzio Vini Alto Adige, Eduard Bernhart - in addition to following all the directives issued by the Coldiretti and provincial decrees, we have made agreements with an agency specialized in the control and management of safety and together we have drawn up a series of protocols and guidelines that have been disseminated to the wineries in order to ensure that all workers can carry out their duties in total peace of mind. There can be no quality wine without protecting the health of our winemakers”, concludes Bernhart.
In the Marche, land of Rosso Conero and Verdicchio, “the seasonal trend has been perfect - as Alberto Mazzoni, director of the Istituto Marchigiano Tutela Vini, tells WineNews - because the lack of rainfall in the winter has been integrated in the following months, until today. The vine did not suffer in this way, the foliar system had a perfect development, and the phytosanitary state of the grapes is optimal, net of a few isolated cases of bad management of powdery mildew. In terms of quantity, we are moving towards an increase in production of 12-15%, but the most important aspect concerns the grape/wine ratio, rebalanced by the summer rains. The last few weeks, in this sense, have been excellent: temperatures constantly below 30 degrees, important temperature changes. Perhaps there is still something missing in terms of alcohol content, but we have some beautiful acidity. The harvest, with the international varieties, such as Merlot and Chardonnay, has already begun, and in the next few days it will be the turn of the natives, Sangiovese and Verdicchio above all”.
The harvest also started in Gavi, where in reality the advance of the vegetative cycle of the vine during the lockdown had led to think of a particularly early harvest. In the following months - explains the Consorzio Tutela del Gavi - the phenological phases gradually realigned with the seasonal averages, thanks to a June with rainfall above the 20-year average and maximum temperatures that rarely exceeded 30 degrees. Among the rows of vines, the sanitary conditions of the bunches are good and a good vintage is expected, and in accordance with the provisions of the Region, after consultation with the social partners and trade associations, the Consortium, in order to facilitate producers in the post-pandemic phase, has provided for a lowering of yields and a harvest reserve quota, equal to 13 quintals per hectare. “The stop phase due to the stoppage of commercial activities has greatly influenced the management of this harvest, but finally the data of July and August concerning the requests for ministerial bands by producers are increasing compared to last year and mark a positive inversion compared to previous months”, comments Roberto Ghio, president of the Consorzio Tutela del Gavi.
Who is already in the heart of the harvest, however, is the reference territory of Tuscan white wine production, that of Vernaccia di San Gimingano. Where the seasonal trend could hardly have been better: all the vegetative phases started in the normal way, the shoots’ expulsion and the flowering were very good, very good fruit setting and veraison, no water stress, no traumatic weather event. If we consider then that during the lockdown period the producers could not dedicate themselves to the usual commercial commitments, from fairs and promotional events, but only to the care of the countryside, the result is beautiful vineyards and perfect grapes. The health condition is excellent, the quantity is only slightly lower than last year, the warm, dry and windy climate in July and August allowed a perfect ripening, helped also by the rains at the end of August, while the cool nights have preserved the acidity. In short, all the premises are there for the 2020 vintage to look like an excellent year, but certainly not enough to sweep away concerns about the global economic situation.
We have to wait a few more days to see the first crates fill the cellars of Valpolicella, land of Corvina and then of Amarone, where, beyond the purely technical and viticultural aspects, it will be an “autochthonous grape harvest”. To hold the scissors, in fact, will be an all-Veronese group of about 6,000 seasonal workers including young people, mainly students and recent graduates, with an average age of 24 years, and retirees employed for a total of 75,000 days / work. According to an internal survey of the Consorzio di tutela vini Valpolicella, they will be the new labor force of Amarone in the year marked by the lack of foreign labor, especially from Eastern Europe, due to Covid-19. “It is a harvest eve - explains the new president of the Consortium, Christian Marchesini - with social implications, the one that in a few days will start in Valpolicella, with a temporary return to agriculture of young people and pensioners from Verona that brings us back to the harvests of the seventies. This is an important result that has allowed us to respond to the emergency of finding the necessary manpower for the sorting of grapes to produce a quality Amarone. In fact, if the sunny days will continue throughout the month of September, and in the absence of other violent weather episodes, we can talk about a good harvest”.
Returning to our wine zigzag for Italy, in Tuscany, in Montecucco, which is mirrored on the banks of the Orcia river, the natural border of the south side of Montalcino, up to the slopes of the Amiata, there are still a few days to go, but there is optimism among winemakers: the Covid-19 and the worst sanitary and economic emergency of this century, has not affected the cycle of the vine, which will bring to the cellar a fruit of optimal phytosanitary status. On the quantitative front, however - mainly due to the scarce summer rains - the season shows a decrease of 10-15% in 2019. “We started the production campaign with a regular spring, without drought or excessive rain or frosts that could have compromised the budding - comments the president of the Consorzio del Montecucco, Claudio Tipa - followed by a summer with little rain, an aspect that in Sangiovese certainly brought out important tannins and aromas, also guaranteeing perfect health of the fruit, but which penalized the quantitative profile. After the rains at the beginning of September, however, the harvest parameters are also rebalancing, helping to lengthen the vegetative cycle and slightly increase the volume of the bunch. The drop in temperature resulting from these rains has allowed the skins to ripen completely and therefore will allow us to dilate the harvest time a bit”.
Then there are the stories of the individual companies, each with its own choices and each with its own balance sheets, but all of them have in common, however, a great desire to start again, with the confidence dictated by the awareness of a harvest anyway optimal, a “divine” sign of nature capable, in a certain sense, to compensate for the difficulties and the drama of recent months. And so, in Bellavista, the brand of Franciacorta, they celebrate the end of this harvest 2020 with a pressing through the “old” marmonier presses. “We wanted to celebrate the end of this harvest that marks an unforgettable year for all of us - says Mattia Vezzola, winemaker of the Franciacorta label - with an ancient pressing, using the old marmonier presses. This harvest has brought us back, in terms of the explosion of nature in the vineyard, to 40 years ago. The blackbirds have started nesting again in the rows, small animals like foxes and wild rabbits have repopulated the Bellavista hills and today, if I had to compare it to one of the past harvests, I would certainly approach it to 2004, a vintage of undisputed quality". The drastic reduction of pollution has slightly increased the yield of the vine; the berries have developed a very consistent skin and the ripening of the grapes has had a very slow course, unusual compared to recent years, as if nature had taken its time to be in harmony with the whole. The marmonier allow a soft pressing of the grapes, without crushing the skins and with a yield of 35%- 40% (free-run must). A tribute to the past, when Bellavista was born and all the grapes were loaded into these presses”.
In Monte Zovo, in the 140 hectares of the Veronese winery of the Cottini family, the harvest, which started at the end of August, will continue until the beginning of November, with the late harvesting of the last grapes. It will therefore be a long harvest and for every single vineyard, in order to best enhance the identity of each terroir and vine. The long harvest of Monte Zovo also includes the harvest around mid-September for Lugana and in Valpolicella for Amarone, while at the beginning of October it will be the turn of the durella grape for the Valpolicella and Valpolicella Ripasso wines of the Tregnago Estate. “The expected production is on average, in the estate of Caprino Veronese we expect - comments Diego Cottini - between 80 and 100 quintals per hectare. Everything promises well, only a climate change can ruin and endanger the quality of the grapes. Our vineyards, located north of Verona between 300 and 900 meters above sea level, have been affected slightly and without major damage by the bad weather that has recently affected some areas of Valpolicella and Lugana. The lowering of temperatures has rather favored an increase in the temperature range to the advantage of the ripening grapes”.
Not far away, in the Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, on the other hand, production is expected to decrease, against higher costs. “Between the reduction in production yield of 20% wanted by the Consortium and the loss of 5% occurred in the flat areas with hailstorms - explains Daniele Accordini, dg and oenologist of the cooperative - this year production will be in sharp decline and this should, the conditional is a must these days, increase the value of the grapes. But the cost of the harvest will also be higher, because we will have to make several scalar harvests, which we are used to, but which we should use even more this year to harvest the grapes in perfect ripeness, different in the various areas and by grape variety. The quality of the grapes is good and, once again, the hilly part of the Valpolicella area, unharmed by hail, will be able to give us excellent wines for long aging in this harvest”.
In Friuli it is possible to breathe pure enthusiasm, among the vineyards of Lis Neris, where the harvest has been going on for a few days. “From Monday, September 7, we started harvesting - says Alvaro Pecorari, owner of the winery - early in the morning, in the coolest hours, first the Sauvignon Blanc, then, during the day, the Pinot Grigio. In last week's tests something was missing, but it only took a few days to bring back the serene, and the Pinot Grigio was the creator. If you could also smell the scent of its skins coming out of the press ... sweet fruit ... a fruit juice in syrup”.
In the Otrepò Pavese, between the vineyards of some members of Terre d’Oltrepò and La Versa, you can experience the benefits of night harvesting. “The daily temperatures certainly higher than a few decades ago - explains the president of Terre d’Oltrepò and La Versa, Andrea Giorgi - overheat the harvested product and the intervention at night allows, instead, to have control of the grapes that arrive fresher in the cellar. This is an initiative that fully embraces our company philosophy: on the one hand, to guarantee a higher quality profile for our products, starting from the vineyard; on the other hand, to pay more attention to environmental issues, starting from the climate change that is affecting the choices in agriculture”.
A few kilometers away, the Castello di Cigognola, the Moratti family brand, decided instead to approach the harvest under the banner of experimentation and research, paying the utmost attention to the choice of dates and methods of harvesting, starting the harvest at the beginning of August in Oltrepò, an area where the early harvest was decided a few days later. The start was made after an evaluation of the technological and sensory ripeness and quality of the Pinot Noir grapes through a tasting analysis directly in the vineyard. The method was developed in collaboration with Giovanni Bigot, owner of the company Per le uve and agronomist consultant at Castello di Cigognola. In particular, the Bigot Index was applied, a scientific method developed by the same professional to know the qualitative potential of every single vineyard, monitoring 9 parameters through the 4Grapes application. Following the appropriate parameters of sensory maturation and the prediction of a hot year, it was then decided to proceed with an early harvest and scale on individual plots, based on the technological characteristics of the berries. The objective is to preserve the acidic complexity and pH of the grapes destined for the sparkling wine bases, which is also supported by the use of bunches recovered from the thinning out of the Pinot Noir vines destined for red vinification.
Piedmont is still behind, however, where however Poderi Colla, in the Langa, has seen an important advance in ripening, so much so that the harvest of some grape varieties has already begun, and the Pinot Nero and Dolcetto destined for the Bricco del Drago selection, have already been harvested. “The grapes - says the winery of Alba - were perfect, this makes us think that 2020 will be a great harvest. The vineyards are bringing a perfect quantity of grapes to ripening and also the quality level seems very high. The thunderstorms that occurred in August and July in the Langa did not affect us and therefore did not create any problems for our grapes”.
In Tuscany, between Bolgheri and Maremma, at Castello del Terriccio “the premises for this vintage are very satisfactory but, as every year, the climatic conditions of this month of September are decisive”, explains Vittorio Piozzo di Rosignano, owner of the farm. “We began the harvest on August 20, then about a week in advance, with the white grapes Viogner and Sauvignon Blanc. In the second week of September, the harvest of the red berry varieties Merlot and Sirah also began. While the selections of Cabernet and Petit Verdot, the main varieties that make up our Lupicaia, will follow after mid-September. As every year, we made use of our historical local workers, all mainly in-house, very experienced and professional, and therefore we did not have the inconvenience that other companies faced due to the lack of labor due to this particular situation. We still record that in this season it becomes increasingly necessary to contain wildlife to protect the bunches, which forces us to fence the vineyards and night patrols. Regarding the climate - continues Vittorio Piozzo di Rosignano - 2020 has given the vineyards of Castello del Terriccio a regular and balanced course of the seasons”.
Speaking of Maremma, on September 4 the grape harvest also took place between the rows of Nittardi, a Chianti Classico label with vineyards also in southern Tuscany. The first to fall, in the vineyard of “Mongibello delle Mandorlaie”, were the bunches of Merlot, then those of Alicante Bouchet, followed by those of Vermentino. Here, too, there is great a confidence for the potential of a harvest kissed by the excellent seasonal trend, which brought healthy grapes of the highest quality to the winery. The best business card to start again after such difficult months.
Between Tuscany and Sicily, “the harvest 2020 will undoubtedly be worth remembering, not only because it took place at the time of the coronavirus but above all because the vegetative cycle was excellent as you can almost never see”. This is how Alessandro Cellai, chief oenologist and CEO of the Castellare di Castellina, in Chianti Classico, Rocca di Frassinello in Maremma Toscana, Feudi del Pisciotto and Gurra di Mare, in Sicily, comments on the excellent premises of the harvest still in progress in the 4 estates. “I’m sure it will enter the palmares of memorable vintages for our estates - adds Cellai - as it was in 1985, 1990, 2001 and 2016. The climate, in fact, was optimal, both in spring and early summer, perfectly favoring the succession of phenological phases that allowed the grapes to reach an almost ideal phenolic maturity. And this has happened both in Tuscany and Sicily”.
Sicily, where it is already time for balance sheets, at least for Planeta, which puts in its archives - in the 400 hectares of vineyards on which rest the six cellars of the company, divided in the five territories of Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Etna and Capo Milazzo - the first month of harvest. Unlike other Italian wineries, August represents an important month for the Sicilian wineries and especially for Planeta, which in this month completes 30% of the harvest. Therefore, we begin to make a provisional balance sheet on the progress of the vintage, waiting for the end of October to draw conclusions with the grape harvest on Etna. “The grapes that have arrived in the winery so far are absolutely at their best. A dry summer with no heat peaks resulted in a naturally low yield, optimal aromatic profiles and density, and grapes in perfect condition.
Chardonnay, Grillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Fiano and Syrah are for the most part already “at home”, and are of exceptional quality, to the delight of the entire team” - says Alessio Planeta, at the helm of the company. Speaking of teams, this year it is Planeta’s task to tell the story of the 2020 harvest: a year characterized by strong fears and uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that shook the whole world. And it will do so through social channels and a live Zoom reserved for all those who request it, where it will be possible to “interrogate” the actors in the winery, first and foremost the oenologists. “In recent months the wineries have been divided in two: those who felt they had to follow the rhythms of man had to mark the pace, but those who followed the rhythms of Nature did not stop a single moment”, adds Alessio Planeta. “Our vineyard and cellar team was truly extraordinary: it can be said that it kept the entire company standing. That is why we will tell the 2020 harvest through their eyes and their thoughts. It will be the harvest of the Planeta men and women”.
On the island, as told by Stefano Girelli, the vigneron of Trentino origins who chose Sicily as his second home, where he leads Santa Tresa, in Vittoria, “the vintage began with a mild winter, rainfall was almost absent and temperatures slightly above average. This contributed to an early budding, in the order of 3-5 days, that occurred between the last week of March and the first week of April. March was a cooler month on average, with frequent rainfall, which marked recovery on the rainfall missed in the first months of the year, to return to the seasonal average in April. From the beginning of May, the weather was mild again but accompanied by frequent small rainfall. A period that was very busy for the agronomists of Santa Tresa and then ended with two weeks of sirocco during flowering. The summer therefore passed with warm but not excessive temperatures, allowing a perfect seasonal course and an advance in the ripening of about 10-15 days compared to the previous year”. Here, Viognier, Grillo and Frappato are already in the cellar, and the boxes are ready for Nero d’Avola.
Finally, from one large island to another, the last stop in Sardinia, between the rows of Siddùra, where “time has always performed its function in the right way. In recent days there has been a drop in temperatures, the temperature range between day and night has risen, everything seems to work perfectly - explains Massimo Ruggero, managing director of Siddùra -. Some plots have already been harvested. Vermentino has its own times and follows its own rhythms and is harvested these days. A vine that keeps its quality and identity unchanged. Gallura responds in the usual way. The times are confirmed. It will be a good season. The miracle will be seen during the fermentation, in the transformation from grapes into wine. But there is still to wait”. On a phytosanitary level, “this harvest is slightly early, due to the high temperatures in May, June and July. Initially it appeared as anticipated by 10-15 days compared to last year's timing, now instead, with the drop in temperatures these days and the rain, we think that a slight slowdown may be there - underlines Luca Vitaletti, agronomist of Siddùra - We are starting with the harvest of Vermentino grapes and then we will move on to the final phase, where Cannonau will remain. The harvest should therefore end around the middle of September. It looks like a good harvest, also from the aromatic point of view, the grapes are very healthy and the plants are well. So we expect important feedback in the bottle, which is consequent to the quality in the field.”

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