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WINE AND CLIMATE

Heat and drought weigh on the 2022 grape harvest. Veneto Agricoltura’s forecasts

Healthy grapes, but major drops in large areas of Veneto, Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy. Tuscany and Puglia bucked the trend
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The grape harvest in Franciacorta, Lombardy

Drought more or less everywhere and above-average temperatures that, for the most part, will limit the quantity of grapes in the cellar and their yield in wine. But also a substantial absence of fungal diseases that, net of some recrudescences of flavescence dorée and esca disease that somewhat worry, suggest that the clusters that will become wine will be able to guarantee an interesting quality. In the impossibility of drawing a common line between the many territories and the thousand Italian grape varieties, this is the general figure that characterizes the 2022 vintage. Which, net of the great media hype that this agricultural work, like no other, is able to magnetize thanks to the allure and prestige of wine, if for some early white varieties and in some territories it has been underway for some time, has yet to enter the bulk that, more or less everywhere, will start after mid-September. This is, at least, the summary picture that comes from the “Harvest Forecasts 2022”, signed by Veneto Agricoltura and the Veneto Region, in collaboration with Arpav, Crea and Avepa, with a focus on Veneto, Italy’s leading wine region in terms of production (10.9 million hectoliters in 2021, more or less a quarter of the national total) and exports (with 2.5 billion euros in 2021, 35% of the Italian total), but with testimonies also from Piedmont, Lombardy, Tuscany, Puglia, Sicily, Emilia Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia and beyond.
With a situation that, beyond numbers susceptible, as always, to be changed even profoundly by the weather in the coming weeks, once again imposes reflections on the future of Italian viticulture, which must start again from a deep knowledge of the territory, as pointed out by Diego Tomasi, Crea researcher and director of the Consorzio di Tutela del Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Docg, who spoke on behalf of the system of the Consorzi di Tutela in the Veneto region: “everyone is focusing on the lack of water and water stress, stressing the importance of being able to irrigate. But water is not the most important element, or at least it is not enough, because as we have seen, in many situations the thermal stress brought by high temperatures has overridden the water issue. It is no coincidence that in Sicily and the South in general, we are experimenting with roofing systems to limit exposure to the sun’s rays when necessary. But we also need to work on agronomic practices. For example, the fact that, because of the great heat and little water, there has not been much vegetative activity of the plant until now, in its own way has helped the vine to resist, and this should make us think, for example, about spring fertilization, which is perhaps no longer indicated. Because if there had been a vegetative boom for a few rains and then a situation like we are experiencing today, the problems from water stress would be much more pronounced. Then it is clear that water is an issue, and there is work to be done not only to get it to where it does not arrive, but also to conserve it better, restoring even small reservoirs and springs that may perhaps serve even for a single irrigation, but that can be lifesaving for a year. In short, we need an integrated strategy”, Tomasi said, “that starts from a deep knowledge of the territory, which is not only vineyard, but landscape, biodiversity, soil and ecosystem”.
Looking at grape harvest estimates, however, with an eye on neighboring countries that have experienced more or less the same dynamics as Italy, such as Spain, where production, according to data provided by journalist Jorge Jaramillo, will stand at best at 36.5 million hectoliters, markedly down on 2021 and the country’s average, and like France, where according to data reported by Gabriele Castelli (Federvini) production will be between 42.6 and 45.6 million hectoliters, as WineNews has already reported, the situation differs from region to region.
In Veneto, where, as explained by Fransceso Rech of Arpav, there have been several consecutive months with very little rainfall, between -40% and -80% on average, and a summer with above-average temperatures of more than 2 degrees Celsius, in general, according to the sentiment reported by Patrick Marcuzzo (Crea-Ve Conegliano), grape quality is expected to be good for white varieties, and some are leaning toward excellent for red ones, especially from Valpolicella and Bardolino. On an overall level, said Veneto Region Agriculture Councillor Federico Caner, the regional production decline is expected to be around -10% over 2021. In a complex territory, quantitative estimates of grape production have been divided by province. And if in general the declines will be more pronounced in the hills on the plain, they range from -8% on 2021 for that of Verona, which means mainly Valpolicella and Soave, to -7% for that of Treviso, where Prosecco dominates, passing through -8% for that of Venice, while the Padua area (+5%) and that of Vicenza (+7%) are in countertrend. As of today, the harvest is scheduled to start between August 26 and 29 for Pinot and Chardonnay for sparkling wine bases (although in some areas of Vicenza and Padua the harvest began immediately after Ferragosto). This will be followed by the harvest of all other varieties: Glera (Prosecco) from Sept. 10, Merlot from Sept. 13, Corvina from Sept. 16, Garganega from Sept. 19, just to name a few of the main grape varieties from Veneto. Estimates are also downward in Friuli-Venezia Giulia (-10% on 2021), while the grape harvest in Trentino Alto Adige is expected to grow, with +9% in the province of Bolzano, and +5% in the province of Trento (with whites such as Chardonnay and Muller Thurgau decreasing, and reds such as Teroldego increasing).
Giving a snapshot of the Piedmont situation, however, was Mauro Carosso, president of Ais Piemonte. “The common factor is the lack of water and heat, which have meant little vigor in the plants, but also few treatments against diseases, practically absent. Looking at the territories, in Langhe, for Nebbiolo, the harvest is expected in mid-September, while it has begun in Alta Langa and for Moscato. In the Monferrato of Barbera and beyond, the southern part is more penalized in quantity due to lack of water than the northernmost part, but the quality could be interesting. In the Gavi area, the harvest is slightly early, in an effort to preserve the acidity that seems to be somewhat lacking this year. Again, in Alto Piemonte, in territories such as Gattinara, the rains of the last few days have helped, and by mid-September the harvest could bring positive surprises”.
Making the point on Lombardy, however, was Lorenzo Craveri (Ersaf - Ente Regionale per i Servizi all’Agricoltura e alle Foreste): “there is a situation of widespread water stress in all the Lombardy areas already since May. Yields have been severely affected, we will have losses of 10-15% in Valtellina, and -30-35% in Bresciano, as well as in Oltrepò Pavese, which was also hit by 4 major hailstorms, so certainly the picture is not exciting. Somewhat better is going in some areas of the Mantovani Morenic Hills and Lugana, where irrigation has been possible and so the quantity will be good. The good thing has been the control of fungal diseases, which have not been there except sporadically, although there is a resurgence of flavescence dorée to monitor. 2022, however, marks a turning point; we will have to consider the difficulties that climate change could bring in the coming years to crops in general, and to the Lombardy vineyard in particular”.
Far from exciting are also the words that of Giovanni Nigro (Centro Ricerche Produzioni Vegetali dell’Emilia Romagna): “here too, the 2022 harvest is characterized by heat and drought, the first rains were seen around August 18-19, after months of drought that put a strain on the vines. The harvest is 8-10 days early for both early whites and reds, as early as mid-July the veraison of Sangiovese began in some areas, and the first decade of August the conferring of whites for sparkling wine bases began. Grapes are intact, uniform, but with small berries, partly due to water stress. Few diseases, but there are resurgences of esca disease and flavescence dorée to keep under control. In the Emilian Plain, the land of Lambrusco, we are on the levels of 2021 at the production level, thanks to a perfect flowering and fruit set, while on the Emilian Hills, which suffered more from water stress we are around -5-10% on 2021. In Romagna there is a drastic drop in the harvest in the hilly areas, between Bologna and Rimini, we are on a -25-30%, and by now it is the umpteenth year that goes like this, while in the Romagna Plain, the land of Trebbiano, to date despite everything the drop is between -5% and -10%. And of course, if the rains come, in the coming weeks, things can improve”.
Another region struggling on the quantity front is Sicily, where the harvest of white varieties started as early as the beginning of August. As explained by Dino Taschetta (Regional Wine Institute of Sicily), “those who have invaded and have been able to irrigate and will have a great year from a qualitative and quantitative point of view. But we must keep in mind that only 30% of the Sicilian vineyard to date can be irrigated, and for those who have not been able to do so it will be a bloodbath. This must make us think: water will be the key to the future, we cannot continue to do viticulture with the lowest yields in Italy as in Sicily, economically it is unsustainable, we need politics to really commit to a serious irrigation plan, or it will be difficult to do viticulture in Sicily.In general, we can say that 2022, in quantity, will be a vintage in line or below by -10% on 2021, which had been a poor year anyway, -20% below average”.
Bucking the trend, however, at least at the quantitative level, are two regions as diverse as Tuscany and Puglia. In the Grand Duchy, pointed out Paolo Storchi (Crea Viticulture of Arezzo), “2022 is a very special vintage, with spring and summer with very little rain, a record scarcity. Between January and July, 200 millimeters of rain fell out of the average 500 for the period, plus there were many days with very high temperatures. From June 1 to August 10, we counted as many as 38 days with temperatures above 35 degrees, and thus with vineyards stuck in the heat. We had the first rains in the week of Ferragosto, even 80-90 millimeters of water, a good refreshment for vineyards that were beginning to suffer. There was no damage from late frost, few from hail, and basically at the level of production we are average, or just above. From a grape health standpoint, there are no major issues from a fungal disease standpoint, just a few sporadic attacks of hate, and in the Coast some moth in a few vines between June and July, which required interventions. More obvious, if anything, is the damage from esca disease. On the Coast, the white varieties are already being harvested, but we are waiting these last few weeks for ripening. For Sangiovese, in general, we will go to the second half of September, and with the lowering of temperatures we also hope for a recovery in quality”. From Puglia, on the other hand, Gianvito Masi (Crea Viticoltura in Turi, Bari) speaks. “2022 is a year that had little rain from winter until the first decade of August. Then it rained a lot, even with water bombs and a few hailstorms between Brindisi, Taranto, Bari and Foggia. Health-wise, no problems with downy mildew, a few little problems with powdery mildew, and there is a little bit of striped moth. Grapes, in general, are 7-10 days early, and are looking excellent. Chardonnay, in Salento, is already almost all harvested, in Manduria the harvest of Primitivo has begun these days, while in the Gioia del Colle area it will go to early September. Quantitatively, where irrigation has been possible and where soils are more fertile, there will be an increase in production of +5/-10% over 2021. But it will be a year when the remuneration will not be very good for farmers, who have to deal with increased production costs around +35% for fertilizer, fuels and energy in general”.
So many different opinions, themes and situations emerged, telling once again the variety of the Italian vineyard. From every point of view.

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