Consorzio Collio 2024 (175x100)

The harvest of Italian bubbles, from Piedmont to Veneto, between those who are closing and those who are waiting

The first estimates from Asti, Alta Langa, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese, Trentodoc and Alto Adige, while the Prosecco “world” is just getting started

In such a particular year in terms of climate, to fully comprehend how much meteorological events and diseases in the vineyard will really impact on the quantity of grapes in the cellar, must yield and quality, we will necessarily have to wait a little longer. However, in the meantime, after the very first bunches that have already fallen at the beginning of August in Sicily and in Franciacorta, the harvest, at least for the sparkling bases, is going into action especially in Northern Italy, from the Piedmont of Asti and the Alta Langa to Trentino, passing through Oltrepò Lombardy, up to Alto Adige, and looking further East, between Veneto and Friuli, where we are still awaiting the Glera which will give life to Prosecco Doc and Docg, as are telling various Consortiums and wineries.
Starting from Piedmont, the harvest has been ongoing for a few days between Asti and Alta Langa. Among the Asti vineyards where the most famous sweet bubbles in Italy are born, which will come to life in the “underground cathedrals” of Canelli, a Unesco heritage site and in many wineries, overall, we expect a yield in line with previous years, and excellent quality. According to the elaborations by the Asti Docg Consortium, the white Moscato grapes are in good phytosanitary conditions with a contained pressure of pathogens like downy mildew and powdery mildew which did not particularly affect the production level. Quantitatively, production should be close to one million quintals, or roughly 750,000 hectoliters of wine, which is comparable to previous years’ levels when 100 million bottles are taken into account. According to Stefano Ricagno, vice president of the Asti Docg Consortium, “2023 was a complex year from a meteorological point of view, characterised by periods of extreme heat and prolonged drought alternating with unfavorable phenomena like the hailstorms in July and August which fortunately only slightly affected the denomination. A complexity with which, companies and producers have dealt using ever-more-elaborate strategies that have helped them cope with the challenges of the climate in the best way possible. The production potential remains in line with previous years with fruit setting proceeding regularly with the exception in a few extreme cases where water stress and drop in temperature linked to the rains in May and June became apparent”.
Even earlier, however, the harvest had begun in the Alta Langa, with the first bunches of Pinot Noir harvested on 17 August, among the vineyards of the provinces of Asti, Cuneo and Alessandria, and is currently in full swing, also involving the Chardonnay grapes. “If the start of August was distinguished by a sizable temperature difference between day and night that encouraged the perfect development of the bunch”, recent days’ extreme heat has significantly sped up the ripening of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes at various altitudes. We are currently observing a rapid maturation even in the higher altitude vineyards, where veraison was not finished in recent weeks. The grapes are healthy and with an excellent pigmentation, and there is a slight quantitative decrease, due to the decrease in summer rainfall and a few bad weather events, particularly the persistent hailstorm that hit the vineyards in the afternoon of July 6 in the region between Neviglie, Benevello, Borgomale, and Lequio Berria. “Ours - commented the president of the Alta Langa Consortium, Mariacristina Castelletta - is a special and growing denomination. The number of members is growing, and because the tender was opened, our vineyard will grow significantly over the next few years. From the perspective of the consortium, we keep making investments to raise and stabilise the value of the Alta Langa Docg denomination. A traditional method sparkling wine which, also due to the rules of its disciplinary (wines always vintage and with a minimum of 30 months of aging in the bottle), can only be a distinctive and high-quality product. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that we are harvesting these days will only become an excellent Alta Langa in the glass at the beginning of 2027: it is also for this reason that we feel so unique”.
From Piedmont, a few steps towards the east and here is Lombardy, where the harvest is going for some time in Franciacorta and Oltrepò. The majority of the harvest, which started with Pinot Noir in the first ten days of August and is now in the works for all varieties, from Chardonnay to Pinot Bianco with Erbamat, is being prepared among the rows of Brescian bubbles, where one of Italy’s most prestigious classic methods is born. At the end of a vintage which, explains the Consortium of Franciacorta led by Silvano Brescianini, differed considerably from that of 2022 in terms of weather: the rains were plentiful compared to the hot, dry climate of last year, and the vineyards showed up with a good productive load. “After a beginning of the year characterized by very limited rainfall and above-average temperatures which led to an early vegetative development of the vine, April saw a decisive change of course with a drop in temperatures and an increase in rainfall which continued even in the months of May and June - underlines the president of the Franciacorta Consortium, Silvano Brescianini - the overall volume of rainfall was not exceptional, but it is important to point out that May was characterized by the high number of rainy days, 19 against one historical average of 9 days: together with 2013, 2023 was the year with the most rainy days in May compared to the average of the last 25 years”. Due to this specific circumstance, downy mildew pressure was very high, and the winemakers were actively engaged in meticulously monitoring the sanitary condition of the vineyards. “Fortunately, the damage was contained and there were no extreme events that compromised production - continues Brescianini - with the thunderstorms at the end of July the temperatures, which had reached particularly high values in the previous days, dropped and also the availability of water it was more than enough”. Franciacorta also comes from a year with significant accomplishments and encouraging data. In 2022, more than 20 million bottles were sold, and while the domestic market still accounts for more than 88% of sales, exports are growing at a rate of 11.5%, with Switzerland, Japan, the United States, Germany, and Belgium among the major export destinations. The first six months of this year also recorded gratifying outcomes. Taking into account that the sales data for the first quarter of 2022 showed strong growth compared to 2021, the period January-June 2023 shows positive growth rates when compared with 2021, 2020 and 2019, in the pre-pandemic period. In particular, compared to 2019, the first half of 2023 marks a +17.6% in volumes.
But going back to the vineyard and staying in Lombardy, the harvest is also going on in Oltrepò, where it has been going on for more than a week. To give a good overview is Conte Vistarino, one of the historic and reference wineries in the area, with 100 hectares of vineyards, led by Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino, who believes that the 2023 vintage has excellent requirements to bring a good quantity/quality level of grapes to the cellar. The rains have never been harmful and have actually kept the soil’s water content at an appropriate level for plant growth. “In the vineyard - explains Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino - we have adopted various measures: processing of the sub-row to increase the absorption of water from the soil; surface processing to avoid losses due to evaporation during the hot season and defoliation of the facade of the row exposed to the morning sun to reduce the accumulation of humidity in the canopy”.
Also in Trentino, the land of Trentodoc, the harvest has been going on for a few days, at the apex of “a particularly challenging year from a meteorological point of view, with copious rains, lately interspersed with very hot days, where there were essential the competence and profound knowledge of the organic viticulture practices of the Ferrari Trento agronomist team”, explains the most prestigious winery of the denomination, of the Lunelli family, with the vice president Marcello Lunelli who speaks of a harvest under the banner of “resilience”, with close monitoring and a scrupulous selection of grapes. “Resilience is the key word for the 2023 harvest, which is one of the most complicated in recent memory. The seasonal trend has required numerous interventions and all our experience to arrive at a selected manual harvest, which can meet our very high standards of excellence”, explained Lunelli.
And among other Trentodoc brands, such as the small winery Maso Martis, harvesting has already started, and a quality harvest is anticipated and even more generous than 2022. “The hail in Trentino in this 2023 season unfortunately caused several damage, fortunately our vineyards are in a sheltered position and have not suffered major damage. Furthermore, compared to 2022, the temperature variations between day and night have been ideal: conditions, as we know, are optimal for sparkling wine bases. Warmer temperatures during the day and cooler temperatures at night allow a slow maturation, a good concentration of the aromatic components of the grape and a better balance between acids and sugars. Generally, the weather conditions were better than last year as in the months of May and June the rain took the place of the drought and changed the scenario for the better”, says Alessandra Stelzer, daughter of the founders and now administrator, with the sister Maddalena, of Maso Martis.
And in these days the harvest of the grapes for the production of sparkling wines has also begun in Alto Adige, with times “broadly average. The summer in the vineyards, however, was humid and therefore more difficult. Let’s hope for a couple of sunny and dry weeks before the actual harvest begins”, says Andreas Kofler, president of the Consortium Vini Alto Adige. This year, the start of the harvest in the valleys has advanced by about five days compared to last year, and the harvest of the grapes in the higher areas has advanced by, as a matter of fact, a period of ten to fourteen days. It begins with the bunches for sparkling wines (in Alto Adige Pinot Bianco and Nero as well as Chardonnay), traditionally harvested a few weeks before the general harvest. “This earlier start is necessary because base wines used to make sparkling wines require more acids and less sugar so that they can ferment again in bottles after being added sugar”, explains Kofler. Especially for the weeks preceding the actual harvest, the president of the Consortium Vini Alto Adige hopes that the climatic conditions will not hold bad surprises, as happened during the summer. Even if, at least so far, there have been no heavy hailstorms, Kofler nevertheless expresses a wish on the weather until the end of the harvest: “The ideal would be low rainfall, cool nights and sunny days”. Considering the persistent humidity, especially in July but also in August, which caused the winemakers a variety of issues, starting with the high presence of fungi among the vines, this desire is entirely understandable.
“Fortunately, our growers are well trained, and the consultancy operates at the highest level. This enables us to maintain control of the situation even in adverse weather conditions”, underlines the president of the Consortium also in consideration of the spread of downy mildew, which in other cultivation areas in Italy has caused massive crop losses. This year’s high humidity in Alto Adige has also made bunches and berries water-rich and consequently more swollen. “Since controlling harvest quantity is a crucial aspect of quality control, meticulous thinning has been done recently”, assures Kofler, who does not yet venture any predictions on the quality of the bunches. “It is still too soon to tell, especially given that the weather in the final days before harvest has a significant impact on the acid and sugar content”, explains the president of the Alto Adige Wine Consortium, who adds: “but if we still have a little luck with the weather, we can hope to have another good year”.
Instead, there are still a few days left for the grape harvest in the large Prosecco district, between the vast Doc and Docg that surrounds the Prosecco hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, a Unesco heritage site, passing through Asolo. And, despite all the territorial differences, “I believe I can say that this harvest, which took place 40 years ago, was the most challenging I can recall because of bad weather, the difficulty in hiring workers, the scarcity of sugar and low production. These are the characteristics of the upcoming harvest”, comments Sandro Bottega, head of the famous company and one of the most famous brands in the area.
“We will try to do our best and hope that everyone does the same. One approach is to manually harvest the best parts of the plant so that the branches won’t need to be stressed out further and that only the best bunches need to be harvested. However, the majority of the work will have to be done in the cellar, specifically the grape selection and oenological techniques that will allow us to achieve the expected quality levels. Among these techniques is the use of wood for ageing in conjunction with yeasts capable of extracting the best from grapes that have been subjected to events and climatic excursions. Indeed, we must keep in mind that the plants were subjected to water stress last year and have yet to fully recover”. And although making predictions is more complicated than ever, according to Bottega, “early grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will probably be the ones that will allow the best results, and Prosecco Rosé, for example, will benefit from this. As far as Glera is concerned, the tests will be on the longevity of the wines we intend to give thanks to reduced productions which will allow, from the small production, at least to raise their quality”. And looking at the market, according to Bottega, not only Prosecco, but all Italian wine, will have to be able to adapt to new scenarios. “We will also have to be up to the task from the point of view of adapting the proposal, which in order to allow us to survive will have to raise the image of a product that has undergone sharp cost increases, and which will have to be able to overturn, at least in part, in the market”, concludes Sandro Bottega.
However, in this complicated picture, between the market and the vineyard, there are those who choose a radically different path, one that alternates between a vision of the future and a sort of return to the past. Like Bisol1542, a piece of Prosecco history, today under the aegis of the Lunelli group, which looks to the “challenging 2023 season by putting into practice what it called the “Vendemmia Originaria”, dedicated to its Prosecco Superiores, from mid-September. And seeking the highest quality, row by row, “to guarantee our sparkling wines their wide olfactory kaleidoscope, the Bisol1542 Technical Team will define, Riva for Riva, the best harvesting moment. Not only on the basis of analytical data, strict controls, and good agronomic management practises, but also, and most importantly, through sensory analysis of the berries, reading the detail of the vineyard-territory ecosystem nuance by nuance”. The “Vendemmia Originaria”, as defined by Bisol1542, which explains: “we will not look for quantity or a degree of ripeness of the grapes that points to acidity, but we will pick selected and gustatory ripe grapes, to best express the aromatic, territorial and varietal from Glera, as is done in white wines. In this way, it will be possible to amplify the specificities generated by the interaction between soils and local microclimates in the glass, practicing a light enology. What was once a necessity, by not resorting to certain oenological products, is now a choice: this is the contemporary and “made-to-measure” style of Bisol1542’s “tailored wines”, faithful interpretations of the 2023 vintage”.
Moreover, they add from Bisol1542, “the last visit to the vineyards this morning and the collection of pre-harvest samples gives us today the photograph of a qualitatively very difficult harvest. Aside from the hailstorm vineyards, which saw significant reductions in production, healthy bunches alternated with those affected by downy mildew, powdery mildew, and botrytis in the others.
For Bisol1542, the selection in the vineyard will take place by first separating the completely healthy bunches from those affected by pathologies. This will be followed by the subsequent cleaning of these bunches, removing the damaged grapes, an essential operation for a harvest of excellence (as occurs in Trento for the Classic Method). The topic of maturation is added to the health theme. To combine health, acidity and sugars, for a truly Superior Prosecco we evaluate the hypothesis of the two detachments in the most suitable and historic “rive” that Bisol1542 and its historical suppliers, respectful of a common disciplinary developed in recent years, cultivate and preserve”.

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