HARVEST 2016 – ITALY
As September comes to an end and most of the grapes have made their way into the cantinas for second picking and pressing, the wine industry starts to buzz, looking to answer the big and ever important question: Will this be a vintage to remember?
Photo courtesy of Einaudi
Assoenologi anticipates the question with a preview of what’s to come every September and we’ve checked in with some of our producers for a first-hand understanding of what we can expect for 2016.
About the same as last year (around 5% less): approximately 49 million hectoliters of wine and must.
Optimal in all of Italy, with some areas of extreme excellence. All the factors required for an excellent vintage are in place. However, this can only be confirmed after the last grape has been picked. The weather has been good to winemakers throughout harvest season and one can only hope it stays that way.
Winter was mild all over Italy, with above-average temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall. Coming in at 289 mm (compared to the seasonal average of 436 mm), this lesser amount did not have a negative effect on the cycle, as the plants had plenty of water left over from fall. Heavier rains in February and March replenished the water reserves and April and May experienced less rain. In general, bud burst took place around mid-March, about 5-10 days earlier than normal. Hail was also recorded in many areas during that period (like in Umbria), which was accompanied by unexpected low temperatures and frost. This reduced potential production, although it did get the growth cycle back on track in terms of timing. Flowering also had to endure several and often violent storms, causing the early fall of the flowers further reducing potential quantity. A rainy June coupled with low temperatures delayed the physiological cycle of the plant, and caused the outbreak of disease and fungal infections (peronospora and oidium). However, winemakers on the whole acted quickly, successfully fighting them off. The end of June finally brought the summer heat, even sweltering in some areas. August was marked by excellent temperatures swings that will be crucial to the quality of this vintage. Overall, this year’s grapes are beautiful and healthy and initial news coming out of the cantinas leave winemakers hopeful for the vintage. Most harvests will be taking place somewhat later than usual, about 5-10 days late.
The weather was atypical this year with a particularly dry fall and winter, accompanied by mild temperatures. Even spring registered low temps, with late frost and lots of humidity. Dry temperatures returned in June, with some scattered storms, which sometimes brought hail compromising quantity and quality. August was hot with excellent temperature swings. Budbreak and flowering were normal and the productiveness of the vines was generally good. In fact the quantity is higher than 2015, but with smaller grapes because of the lack of water. Plant protection was difficult this year. Even though fungal infections didn’t spread at the beginning of the season, urgent measures were required in July. Perfectly healthy Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Brachetto, Moscato, Dolcetto, Freisa, Arneis and Cortese have been picked and winemakers are happy if not ecstatic about the quality. The last week of the month will be dedicated to Barbera and then Nebbiolo, depending on weather conditions. Quality is expected to be excellent. Poderi Einaudi has confirmed this by saying, “The high summer temperatures were tempered by just the right amount of rain, which was never too much, and the grapes are all healthy and presenting excellent quality. Obviously we are just at the beginning of harvest (which has begun at the normal times for the various grapes varieties), but we are sure it will be a year worthy of recognition and great structure.” At the same time, the ever cautious Davide Mozzone of Bongiovanni said that, “The battle begins now. With Barbera and Nebbiolo harvest just a few weeks away, we are watching the grapes and the weather closely. For now, everything looks great and we are very satisfied with the Arneis and Dolcetto we’ve already brought into the cantina.”
Photo courtesy of Bongiovanni
Lombardy’s weather changed from area to area in terms of quantity and health. Bud burst and flowering went off without much of a hitch, but heavy rains caused extensive loss of flowers, reducing production. Many storms and hail caused a further reduction in some areas as well as peronospora, especially for organic wineries. The more delicate varieties (Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Merlot) were affected by the fungus, but on the upside, went through excellent day/night temperature swings and maturation was constant albeit slow. Regina Valzelli reported that harvest went off without a hitch and “We consider the primary characteristics of typical fresh, ripe fruit, with great depth and excellent minerality to be excellent for 2016. Our vineyards’ excellent locations guaranteed a morning breeze that ensured exceptional health and acidity that will probably accompany the primary characteristics of our wines, “especially the Rosè.” Laura Gatti expounded on the situation at Ferghettina, which is anything but bleak: “Harvest began 18 August about 10 days later than 2015. The rain in early August slightly delayed ripening. However, from 15 August on, the weather conditions were perfect with sunny days and medium-to-high daytime temperatures and cool nights. Thanks to this climate, the grapes ripened impeccably and in excellent health with perfect sugar and acidity numbers for Franciacorta base wines. Harvest ended 10 September and the quality of the wines is excellent. Quantity will be slightly lower than 2015.” And in fact, the region is expecting a 10% decrease over last year, but the numbers are in line with the ten-year average.
TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE
Because the temperatures were lower than normal this year, harvest was 10-12 days late. The average weight of the grape bunches is lower than last year for white grapes and most should be harvested mid-September while the international red varieties will begin later. There were also some problems with peronospora. Alfredo Albertini for Bollini confirms, explaining that “Expectations for quality are very high, especially for white grapes. The potential alcohol content is interesting and the acidity levels are good with an excellent ratio of acidity and tannins.” He tells us that the next days will be crucial to the quality of the red varieties, but the forecast is good. Aldo Adige is also looking at excellent quality and healthy fruit with no anomalies. Harvest should take place the end of September and will continue through mid-October November. The expected decrease in quantity is about 5%.
Davide Dal Cero of Corte Giacobbe reports that it was an unusual year. The first six months of the year were very rainy causing them to worry about quality. However, there was a happy improvement in summer, which was extremely hot. The summer heat perfectly dried out the extra water, leading to perfect balance. Grapes are ripening to perfection, especially up high on the hillside. Davide explained “when I went to take some samples up in the Runcata vineyard, I picked a few grapes and they were noticeably cool, even leaving my fingers cold! This means the acidity is high and the potential alcohol content will be around 13 to 13.5%. What I can say about this year is that there will be extraordinary balance and extremely intense aromas, even more than last year.” Davide has been monitoring the weather and they have started harvesting in the lower vineyards working their way up the hill about 30-40 meters a day to ensure a totally consistent harvest. Elsewhere in the Veneto, Luca Speri elaborated on the situation at Speri vineyards, “This year got off to a slow start and wasn’t easy as from mid-May to mid-June. It was very rainy, and there was a great risk of disease and rot. But from mid-June on, the season changed, becoming beautiful and the vines were able to recuperate. Long periods of sunshine and average temperatures favored a healthy and quality growth cycle as well as excellent maturation. The last part of the season, just before harvest, was perfect with sun and dryness and important day/night temperature swings. Only two days of light rain before harvest led the way to dry weather for grape picking! Everything went perfectly. There was no rain or violent weather at any point during the season so all the conditions necessary for a year to remember are in position. At the moment, we are in our first week of harvest for Amarone, but everything looks great, even the weather in our area. Harvesting grapes for Amarone (so grapes that will go through a period of drying) in dry weather is fundamental to preserving the health of the grapes.” As for the region in general, the growth cycle began about 10-15 days late in the highest producing region in Italy. In some areas, low temperatures and precipitation caused weak flowering triggering millerandage in the more delicate varieties. Temperatures in June and early July were well above the norms, but leveled out to normal temperatures for the season thereafter. The region also had to fight off disease and it seems they were able to combat it. Nevertheless, quality has held on strong so far. Quantity will be a little lower than the year before, but higher than the ten-year average. higher than the ten-year average.
Photo courtesy of Speri
FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA
Challenging spring weather – which was altogether unusual for the region – with sudden weather jumps from mild weather to heavy rains negatively influenced flower set and its uniformity in addition to causing millerandage. It was also very difficult to keep peronospora and oidium at bay, especially for organic wineries. However, Jermann tells us, “The 2016 vintage will absolutely be remembered as an excellent one. Bud burst was normal as was growth. The weather started to become problematic during flowering, because it alternated between rainy and mild periods. The reduced fertilization of flowers caused by the rain and the resulting lower number of grapes per cluster nevertheless allowed for the formation of thinner clusters, making them less susceptible to rot further guaranteed by targeted bunch and leaf thinning. The arrival of summer brought beautiful weather with ideal day/night temperature swings, factors that aided in the adequate accumulation of sugars, acidity and interesting aromatic complexity. The cherry on top of the cake is that the health of the grapes is practically perfect the kind of the top vintages – allowing us to choose the best time to harvest. We started harvesting the grapes 31 August 2016 with Sauvignon Blanc (harvest at dawn to preserve their aromas). We moved on to Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and slowly but surely, all the rest of the varieties; harvest ended 5 October with Pignolo di Ruttars, as tradition dictates.” Grape production is 5% higher than last year and much higher than the ten-year average. White wines seem to have good sugar and acidity levels and an interesting aromatic profile.
Winter was rainy with higher temperatures than usual. Those rains continued through spring with downpours and hail. Temperature swings during spring caused staggered flowering and fruit set resulting in coulure and millerandage. Winemakers also had to fight off peronospora and oidium and even phylloxera in some areas of the region. From July until today, the almost total absence of rain and heat has created some stress for the vines, even though there were good water reserves. Veraison began about a week later than last year. The weather changed from area to area, sometimes from vineyard to vineyard, in Tuscany. But the quality is still expected to be good if not great. Harvest for early-ripening whites begun in late August. Vernaccia began in mid-September along with Tuscany’s coastal areas. Native and international reds are being harvested now and will continue through October, especially in the Chianti Classico area. Franco Bernabei confirms, “It will be a great year for Tuscan wines, the rains in early September gave the late-ripening varieties that last push they needed to reach perfect maturation, especially those used for our traditional wines. We are unquestionably satisfied even though we are not totally finished harvesting. Early September rainfall came on gradually, with no damaging storms, allowing for the penetration of water without ruining the grapes still on the vine. We are about 85% of the way through harvest, finishing up with our native varieties, which have gone perfectly through their cycle and will give us excellent wines.” And Pasquale Presutto of Terrabianca tells us that the “Cabernets and Sangioveses of Massa Marittima will be excellent having ripened perfectly.” Terrabianca has not harvested in Chianti Classico yet, but ripening happened early this year. “Alcohol levels are good and the wonderfully beneficial day/night temperature swings will guarantee excellent quality.” Quantity is down about 5% this season, but just about in line with the ten-year average.
April was cool with a lot of rain, but budbreak still began about a week early, while flowering was held back by several storms. Veraison of red grapes began slightly late. There were also some problems with disease that were quickly eradicated. Maturation is about 7-10 days late, but Ampelio Bucci of Villa Bucci said, “It has been a great growth cycle and harvest went well with beautiful weather and little rain. While it was helpful to cool and clean the grapes, it didn’t make picking difficult because the soil remained dry. Also because we have lots of grass, as per the organic-growing principles we’ve been practicing for 19 years in all our vineyards. The quality seems great in terms of alcohol, acidity and dry extract. There was no rot. The quantity is without a doubt 10-15% higher and we expect excellent white and red wines for this vintage.” The region on a whole is expecting several areas of excellence producing balanced wines. Quantity will be down 5% over last year.
Winter was particularly mild, but spring’s tempestuous weather and frost caused problems for budbreak and flowering. June rainfall was higher than normal while the temperatures were lower. This caused the growth cycle to slow down in some areas as well as some problems with disease. A hot summer finally arrived thereafter and there were excellent day/night temperature swings in August. Umbria production will be down about 5-15%. Peter Heilbron of Tenuta Bellafonte told us that at the end of growth cycle, beautiful sunshine paved the way for “great ripening and therefore big, plump grapes, which means wonderful aromas and perfumes.” See his lush and inviting grapes below.Photo courtesy of Tenuta Bellafonte
Winter was particularly mild, but spring’s tempestuous weather and frost caused problems for budbreak and flowering. June rainfall was higher than normal while the temperatures were lower. This caused the growth cycle to slow down in some areas as well as some problems with disease. A hot summer finally arrived thereafter and there were excellent day/night temperature swings in August. Umbria production will be down about 5-15%. Peter Heilbron of Tenuta Bellafonte told us that at the end of growth cycle, beautiful sunshine paved the way for “great ripening and therefore big, plump grapes, which means wonderful aromas and perfumes.” See his lush and inviting grapes below.
Because of the weather – cool temperatures, storms, humidity and little sunlight – the region experienced a very slow start to the growth cycle and many obstacles. However, things got much better in June and July, bringing excellent bud burst. Though, it also created abundant foliage which led to problems with disease. Harvest begun in early September (with white grapes) and will continue through the end. In spite of the aforementioned weather, the grapes have pulled through and the vintage is shaping up to be one to remember.
Last winter was dry and mild with higher-than-average temperatures. Spring was warm, fueling early bud burst. This area also had its share of wacky weather with numerous storms and low temperatures. Flowering took place at the end of May/beginning of June with fruit set taking considerably long, producing loosely-packed bunches. The temperatures rose in late June and throughout August, there was good ventilation with great temperatures, a few storms and excellent day/night temperature swings. Harvest took place all throughout September and will continue throughout October. Quantity will be down about 20%, however, quality should be among the best.
The region experienced a lot of rain through winter and spring. June and July were hot, with just a few cool periods, which favored maturation. There were no problems with disease as thankfully, any hint was swiftly combatted. August was especially hot, with a few storms that may have reduced quantity in some areas. Harvest has already begun for early-ripening grapes but harvest in Puglia will continue through August.
Fall and winter were rainy and spring was moderately humid. May and June saw some problems with peronospora and oidium. However, they were quickly fought off. Harvest in some areas has begun but will continue through October. Etna will begin its harvest presumably around the end of September, beginning with Carricante. In general, Sicilian grapes are reported to be in good condition with good quantities though there will be about 20% less than last year. Gianfranco Sabbatino says that he is looking forward to an “excellent vintage, with slighter lower quantities, at least in the Messinese area.”
Sardinia has not had it easy the past three years, with some drought conditions, making life difficult for agriculture and beyond. Fall and winter were dry, with mild temperatures while spring brought lots of rain. However, it wasn’t enough to fully replenish the water reserves. Budbreak was early and even. May and June were cooler, and the growth cycle slowed down drastically. The unusual winds kept the vines dry, fending off certain types of disease while causing concern for others. Near the end of July, there were healthy amounts of rain, which coincided with veraison. Harvest began mid-August and continued throughout September. The health of the grapes is excellent.
So what can we make of all this? Most grapes are safely in the cantinas starting the fermentation process, but late-ripening varieties are still on the vines hoping for wonderful weather that will bring their maturation period to the perfect end. 2016 had its moments, especially in the beginning of the season, but what is important, aside from the perfect summer period, is how it ends. And right now, it seems to be ending on a very, very high note.
For now, enjoy the early fall view…
Photo courtesy of Speri