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HARVEST 2017

For as long as anyone can remember, there has never been a year as perplexing as 2017, with drastic weather patterns that greatly affected the growing season. Extreme temperatures in both directions of the thermometer significantly impacted quantity and quality, having left winemakers helpless in the face of Mother Nature. An unusual and unexpected frost in late April killed buds that were just forming, greatly reducing yields for many, while a heatwave in July caused drought and extreme dryness, burning leaves and grapes alike and dehydrating the soils to desert-like conditions. But all is not lost: while quantity is down, quality is absolutely not.

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QUANTITY

Assolenologi estimates a 25% reduction in production due to weather phenomena, coming in at about 41 million hectoliters.

QUALITY

Quality will vary from region to region, and vineyard to vineyard with many, many points of excellence from the top to the bottom of the boot.

LOMBARDIA

The growth cycle began early due to high April temperatures that were halted by uncharacteristic frost in late April. Spring was mild and summer hot, but excellent day/night temperature swings kept things in balance. Ripening was slow, leading to excellent maturation and there were no problems with disease or pests. Ferghettina’s Laura Gatti best summarizes what happened for most in Franciacorta: “Harvest 2017 is marked by great damage caused by overnight frost conditions 19-21 April. The temperatures those three nights dropped significantly below zero compromising the development of buds and clusters. Quantity is down about 50%. However, in vineyards unaffected by the frost, grapes matured wonderfully. In fact, the rest of the season was perfect and the wines currently in the cellar are high level. So what do you usually say in these cases? Quality not quantity, and excellent quality at that!” We also spoke to Giulia Gatti of Enrico Gatti, who gave a technical outlook of how their vineyards were affected. “Compared to other years, the growth cycle began about a month early. But in mid-April, Franciacorta was affected by unforeseen frost.  At the time, the buds were about 15 centimeters long and the vineyards most affected were those half way up the hill. Fortunately, the plants did not die, but the buds were completely desiccated. Usually, plants have three buds, the main one and the secondary and tertiary buds and one of those two could continue the cycle, but there is no guarantee it will produce grapes. In fact, after about three weeks, the growth cycle began once again but unfortunately, grapes were not produced. In the few cases where grapes grew, the quantity was scarce. However, the vineyards high on the hill, which are dedicated to our millesimati were unaffected. Unfortunately, it hailed in the first week of June, damaging the vineyards with a 25-40% loss. The weather was normal until the end of July when the heat wave came. We harvested 11-16 August. In other words, this vintage has proven to be quite complicated. We tried to extract the best possible quality, which is what we always strive for and are able to attain, also thanks to the right position and composition of the vines.” In general, Lombardia is down 25%.

PIEDMONT

Piedmont won’t soon forget the spring frost, drought and heat of 2017. It was the tenth warmest winter in 60 years. They did get about 104 millimeters of rain, but it is still about 40% less than normal. Spring was the third warmest in 60 years. It was a long, hot summer with temperatures as high as 104 °F and harvest began early for most of the varieties. Manuel Marchetti explains what happened at Marcarini: “Harvest 2017 took place much earlier than normal, perhaps it was even a record. The ripening of many varieties overlapped making the decisions and the work in the cellar very difficult. Hail and frost in the beginning of the season in some areas also made things challenging. For example, our Moscato grapes got hit in March. Fortunately, we didn’t have any more hail, but we did have a long period of drought, which has continued through to today. These conditions have benefited the health of the grapes and the concentration as well, but it has reduced the yield. All in all, the results are optimal and we have wonderful wines. I am sure this prediction will be confirmed in the future.” We talked to Giuseppe Marengo of Ca’ Rome’ who said, “The 2017 vintage is considered a good one; the wines have high alcohol, good acidity and low yields, due to the hot and dry weather. Our wines will be more ready to drink with riper tannins. We started out with a mild winter with very little snow. But we’ll always remember this year for its drastically low springtime temps that caused damage in many areas of Le Langhe. We were really lucky that we weren’t affected by the April frost, having vineyards in higher Serralunga and different Barbaresco locations.  September was hot and dry, but fortunately, we also had some rain and low temperatures, bringing necessary diurnal temperature changes. These factors – crucial to these grapes – greatly helped polyphenolic maturation of our Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes. Matteo Sardagna at Einaudi explains that things in terms of the weather, aren’t much different for their winery, explaining that when the temperatures finally broke in September, the grapes that most benefitted from were Barbera and Nebbiolo. He says the “alcohol levels are important but not too far from the average (with excellent pH as well). We will remember 2017 as one of the most precocious, seeing as harvest began weeks early.”  Beatrice Gaudio agrees wholeheartedly, “2017 was one of the most unusual in history. Surely the high summer temperatures and lack of real precipitation made the grapes and their sensorial characteristics quite particular. The color, tannins and therefore strong structure truly stand out. This is because the skins were quite thick to protect the berries from the strong sun rays that started in June. Not pruning provided protection and helped the photosynthesis process continue at full strength, avoiding scorching burns. In addition, working the land through aeration (deep ripping and milling) and the use of organic fertilizer helped the vines find nutrition in the soil. The aromas are quite particular, thanks to the diurnal temperature changes in late August/early September. The varieties that suffered the least during the heat wave are those that ripen early, but we assure you that in spite of the odd weather, the quality of all the wines in the cellar is very good to excellent. Surprisingly, the acidity is also lovely and quite high, making these wines suitable for long aging, which will be great for the Barberas and Grignolinos since they have great tannic structure and will need evolution in barrel and bottle.”

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TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE

Winter was mild, but very dry, causing the vines to die in the lower valleys. The growth cycle began without any problems, but frost arrived, killing off large amounts of vineyards in certain areas, especially those growing Marzemino and Pinot Grigio. There were also a few hailstorms that caused damage.  Temperatures in May and June were higher than normal and summer was hot and dry, but the grapes were able to mature well and quality is expected to be very high. In fact, Andi Punter of Franz Haas explains, “It was a difficult year, with the frost in April and hail in May, and an even stronger hailstorm on 9 August. Even during harvest, the weather was instable, especially in the first three weeks. We began picking around 11 September. In any case, we are very happy with the quality of the grapes, but we are suffering a bit for the quantity. We finished harvesting last week with the Pinot Nero grapes grown at high altitudes.” Quantity in the region will be down 10%.

FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

Winter started out warm but then the cold finally arrived. It was also quite dry creating drought right away and about 2,000 hectares were affected by the April frost. There were also a few episodes of hail and as a result, winemakers lost about 15%. Summer was long, hot and dry, but thanks to winds in August, temps reduced and much needed day/night temperature swings helped the grapes ripen perfectly. Overall quality is expected to be very good.

VENETO

The growth cycle began about 10 days early and things were going well until the April frost hit, which wiped out a lot of vineyards at lower elevations. Things smoothed out in the region and vines affected by frost were able to produce fruit through the secondary buds. Summer was hot, and there were a few hailstorms and whirlwinds that further damaged the area. The quality, however, is still looking as if it will be better than good, but quantity will be down about 15%. Davide Del Cero, vineyard manager for Corte Giacobbe tells us about their experience: “The 2017 vintage will be remembered as one of the hottest and driest of the last century. We had a very unusual spring with frost that compromised the lower vineyards (luckily Tenuta Corte Giacobbe is on the hill so there was no damage). Because our vineyards are located above an inactive volcano, they need heat to ripen. The grapes were beautiful this year and they weren’t affected by the lack of water. Our wines will be structured but will have great acidity that will help them age well. We did make a bit less than usual but the quality will absolutely be better than average.“

 TUSCANY

Tuscany will be down a whopping 30% this vintage. The April frost irregularly affected the region. In Montalcino for example, the cold winds responsible for the frost literally “jumped” over the mountain, hence wineries, leaving some with 70% losses and others with only 30% reductions. The summer season was scorching for everyone, but again with varying results. Andrea Costanti of Costanti confirms that “In spite of summer being hot and dry, we picked exceptional grapes. This year truly highlighted the different areas of Montalcino and our area, being higher up and cooler, was absolutely privileged. Furthermore, we began harvest around 18 September, about 10 days earlier than usual for us and in any case, we were one of the last to pick in Montalcino. There will be a slight reduction in quantity due to the lack of water.”

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Jacopo Morganti of Il Molino di Grace tells us what happened in Panzano: “We finished harvest last week, a bit earlier than usual; after the April frost and the long dry summer, we were very surprised by the perfect quality of the grapes, how well they ripened and their health. However we are very upset about the low production. But that is all part of the game. With the arrival of rain in early September things substantially changed for the better.  The grapes are perfect with alcohol around 14%, with excellent structure and color and very high quality. From an agronomist point of view, it was an easy year with no disease or rot, but a difficult one because of the frost and heat wave. Then again Sangiovese loves heat more than rain and this year it is truly perfect, crisp and spicy on the palate.”
Molino di Grace

MARCHE

Marche is also looking at a large reduction this year. Spring was mild, with very little rain, and frost hit this area too. Temperatures were higher than average and because there was not much in the way of water reserves, this June and July were difficult months. July reached never-before highs for the third year in a row. Veraison and ripening took place at least three weeks early and harvest was also early. In spite of problems and the 25% reduction in quantity, quality still looks good with many areas of excellence.

UMBRIA

Winter was very cold and rainy, even snowy at times, but spring was mostly mild. The April frost caused massive damage and production is down 40%, even up to 80% in places where the buds were already well developed. Summer was long and dry with very few day/night temperature swings, giving grapes little time to recuperate. Still, quality looks good for Umbria. Peter Heilbron of Tenuta Bellafonte gives us his take.  “This vintage was dry, also because of the spring freeze that especially affected the lower vineyards. Ours are hilly with good elevation, so they were not distressed by the cold, and during the hot, dry summer, they benefited from relatively cool nights. The fact that the soil was well worked and that we don’t use herbicides allowed the roots to seek humidity deep down, making sure they suffered less the lack of rain. The result is an earlier harvest with extremely healthy grapes but lower production than last year. They are more concentrated yielding less wine. Even though production is limited, we are sure we will have excellent quality wines.”

ABRUZZO

This eastern Italian region will forever remember 2017 for record-breaking temperatures and out-of-the-ordinary weather events. The winter snowstorm the area experienced was the biggest seen in the last hundred years. It was followed by the freeze experienced in all of Italy and one of the driest summers on record. Oddly, the winter snowstorm actually saved later-ripening varieties from the frost as the growth cycle was delayed about two weeks. The summer was long and hot with a few hailstorms. Production is down about 30% over last year. Il Feuduccio’s enologist Romano D’Amario explains what this means for them: “In regards to white grapes, there was very little rain during June, July and August and this guaranteed the health of the grapes while irrigation was needed for the more sensitive varieties. The must appears more harmonious than last year and the wine should be more complex on the nose and “full” on the palate. For red grapes, this harvest will be remembered for its low yield due to the persistent high daytime temperatures and the substantial drought in September and early October.  On the flip side, there were drastic drops in overnight temperatures. These weather patterns left us with a must with high sugar and low acidity, assuring wines with high alcohol and phenols. These wines will be very suitable to aging, even for long periods.”

CAMPANIA

Interesting about Campania is that temperatures were quite low over winter, even lower than average. Snowcapped mountains also helped replenish water reserves and spring was mild, seeing very little rain. The April frost did lower temperature and some early-ripening varieties were affected, but quite sporadically in the region. After the frost, things went back to normal and the growth cycle continued normally until summer, which was one of the hottest it has been in 15 years with record-breaking highs throughout the season. Harvest began early and quality is expected to be quite good and even quantity will be 5% higher than last year.

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PUGLIA

The winter season had an enormous influence over the growth cycle in this region. Winter was colder than average and spring was mild with little rain. A warm April favored early budding, which was interrupted by the same frost, greatly reducing production potential. The hot summer caused water stress and harvest began about ten days early. The region is expecting a reduction of about 30% in quantity. White varieties will be higher in alcohol, but will seemingly preserve their fine quality. Reds will have excellent structure, concentration and mature tannins.

SICILY

Cool winters and a dry spring led to an even drier summer for the island. It seemed to have rained once in spring and then once again in early October. Sicily has never seen such fiery, relentless heat, with summer temperatures reached as high as 115 °F even touching 122 °F inland! As a result, extensive damage was done to farming. On average, harvest took place much earlier with a 35% reduction in quantity. Things went better on Etna for the mere reason that it is high above the sea. Michele Faro of Pietradolce gives us an explanation: “2017 was hot and dry and lasted a very long time. Our first rainfall after five months was last week! We are currently picking; we just finished whites and are working on the reds. On Etna, we were lucky that the scorching heat we had was balanced by the high altitude (3,000 feet above sea level) so the wines will absolutely have structure and body and will maintain the elegance and freshness typical of this area.”

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 SARDINIA

The island was so varied, with high highs and low lows across the entire island. It is difficult to generalize because of such drastic differences so we went directly to our producers.  Raffaele Cani of Santadi explains that the weather for 2017 was “unusual even for Sardinia, with the almost total absence of rain and torrid heat that lasted for months. In Sulcis, in southwestern Sardinia where we are, the sandy, clayey soil (which maintains humidity), emergency irrigation, and [good] management of the quantity produced per plant, allowed us to come out in the end with an almost normal harvest. Though we will be down about 15% in quantity. At the moment our wines are not done, but from our early tests, they are rich in aromas with excellent body and structure. We needed to watch our whites closer, for pH and acidity, but the results are wines with interesting aromatics, supported by their typical minerality, good acidity and balanced alcohol. The Tre Torri Rosato has a brilliant clear rose color. The Carignano is typically ample on the nose with intense mineral notes and wonderful freshness.” Renato Spanu of Jankara explains, “This harvest was a struggle; the 2017 vintage will see 50% or less in production compared to previous vintages. The frost in mid-April burnt about 70% of the buds and the extreme heat and drought during the summer months guaranteed smaller production. However, the little amount of wine that is produced will be great quality and quite big in structure.”

The big takeaway for the 2017 vintage – aside from the great quality – is that things varied in Italy, from region to region, and zone to zone. It will be important this year to follow the words of individual winemakers and not general vintage reports.  All in all, it seems that while most of the wineries in Empson’s portfolio suffered some loss in terms of quantity, quality has hung on quite strong. Of course it means Mother Nature was kinder to them, but it is also due to the great skill and foresight of our outstanding winemakers in managing what was handed to them.

BOLLINI, TOSCOLO AND MONTE ANTICO: TOP PICKS FROM IWSC

When you receive an award from IWSC, you certainly feel like your hard work is being recognized. After all, “With 47 years’ experience, the IWSC is widely recognized as the original, the most prestigious and the most respected wine and spirit competition in the world.”

This competition is especially interesting because it takes the tastings so seriously. They take place throughout seven months of the year, are double blind, and the tasting panel consists of seven expert tasters. They also do a full chemical analysis on every wine.

See the awards below:

 iwsc-silver-bollini-pinot-grigio-2016

iwsc-2017-silver-toscolo-chianti-classico-riserva

iwsc-2017-bronze-monte-antico-2013

98 – COSTANTI’S MAGIC NUMBER

Truth be told, receiving a score just a mere two points shy of a perfect one hundred is truly magical. Andrea Costanti is fortunate enough to see his hard work recognized with just such a score, and more than once. After last’s years 98 from Antonio Galloni, this year, Wine Enthusiast awarded Costanti’s Brunello di Montalcino 2012 with a well-deserved 98 points, proving once again that not all Brunellos are created the same.

Wine Access wrote a lovely article featuring the 2012 vintage and Costanti’s top-rated Brunello:

“Leading the way on many scorecards, including our own, was Andrea Costanti’s brilliant red-ruby stunner. Culled from less than 30 acres of vines in the high-elevation, northern reaches of Montalcino, Costanti’s 2012 epitomizes the classic, seductive side of the region, offering up Burgundian aromatics and the richest Pinot Noir-like concentration and balance, all stapled together with a splash of Brunello rusticity.

Deep red-ruby to the rim. On the nose, red currant, dark plum, ripe cherry, and kirsch are mixed with textbook floral tones and dried-flower minerality. The attack is rich and plush, showing off the extreme ripeness of that hot summer. Silken in texture, showing restraint and sweetness, finishing with the superb tannin structure that has always distinguished Costanti’s finest and most age-worthy Brunellos. Drink now (only if you’re horribly impatient) or do as we always do and lay down the top Brunello of the vintage for 10-15 years.”

 

A LINK BETWEEN WINE AND HEALTH

Monte Antico and Red Grapes

Looking for a reason to buy that next bottle of wine? Well, look no further! New Zealand-based blog Jen Reviews has provided readers with a whopping fifteen health benefits of drinking wine, written by Jesse Miller. She talks about longevity, heart health, Alzheimer’s disease, liver function, stroke, eyesight and even depression! If you want to read all about it, click here!

Empson reminds you though, drink responsibly….and drink well!

BOLLINI: A TOP PICK IN CANADA

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Toronto Life has released a short list for “the best international bottles of white wine from the LCBO,” which is “one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of beverage alcohol,” located in Canada. Considering LCBO has 650 retail stores with over 225 agency stores, as well as catalogs and special order services, and offers 24,000 products annually to Canada’s wine and spirits’ drinking community, it was quite an honor to see Bollini Pinot Grigio listed!

Read below for the stunning review:

Bollini 2015 Pinot Grigio

$17.95 | Trentino, Italy | 88 points

Bollini has produced a very fruity young pinot grigio (more so than most pinot grigios from Italy) with generous poached pear, yellow plum, grapefruit and honeysuckle florality. Despite the ripeness, this vintage is lively and a touch spritzed with alcohol warmth. Chill well before serving.

To check out the full article, click here.

THE OFTEN-OVERLOOKED VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO ACCORDING TO VINEPAIR

montepulciano-from-siteVinepair has posted a comprehensive article explaining the ins and outs of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and it is sure to get your mouth watering in no time.  Often overlooked in the world of Italian wine, some wineries are working hard to put the appellation on the everyday drinker’s dinner table.  Boscarelli is certainly one of those wineries and they are doing a bang-up job. Taking the utmost care in the vineyard and in the cantina to serve up the best and cleanest wines possible, their wonderfully elegant and balanced wines full of typical Montepulciano goodness, frequently grace the lists of the most important critics in the world.  Boscarelli was recently featured by WineSearcher and Wine Spectator (and once again on the cover) and one of their wines was even voted one of the best Italian wines by Vinepair themselves.

If you’d like more information about Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that just might get you closer to beginning a long-lasting love affair with their different interpretations of the classic wine, take a look at Vinepair’s article. Here is just a snippet:

“If there’s a red wine that you don’t know but should, it’s Tuscany’s noblest bottle of them all, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Not to be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (made from the Montepulciano grape), this Sangiovese-based red is just as noteworthy as its celebrated Tuscan neighbors, Chianti and Brunello. For your next dinner party, holiday gift, or Friday night on the couch, look no further than this distinguished Italian classic; vibrant, fresh, and exquisitely tasty, Nobile truly goes with everything!”

Click here to read the full article.

MOLINO DI GRACE – HONEST WINEMAKING

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One can’t help but want to taste – and love – Il Molino di Grace’s wine after being on the receiving end of one of Frank Grace’s big smiles and hearty handshakes. After all, Il Molino di Grace’s wines must reflect his warmth, right? If truth be told, they do, with their soul-warming colors, beautiful, clean aromas, inviting palates and memorable finishes. They are one of a kind, just like the Graces’ stunning estate. Indeed, the vineyards – each named after one of Frank and Judy Grace’s grandchildren – reflect the love and care they and their staff have always put into cultivating perfect, healthy plants. Further cementing this idea, the winery became certified organic in 2014 – with the first vintage release in 2015. But make no mistake, they had already been practicing organic viticulture well before going through the formalities.

 Il Molino di Grace is located in the heart of Panzano, which by no coincidence is the largest organic-growing district (we’re talking 500 hectares) in Italy. At least nineteen out of twenty wineries in the area are organic and they each belong to the association called the Vintners’ Union of Panzano in Chianti. Being part of this elite community affords them many advantages, not least is the one giving them constant access to the expertise of a “group” professional agronomist, paid by the associates to keep a close eye on any potential disease and/or pest infestations across the area. Because the entire zone is organic, this system of checks and balances eliminates the risk of potential outbreaks and spread. The other side of the coin is that it also eradicates the threat of contamination of synthetic pesticides or weed killers used by neighbors. Consider that even the posts used to tie the vines are organic chestnut. That is just how important it is to them.  Why? The answer to this question illustrates why a winery might choose to go organic in the first place.

panorama_05_homeGrapes at Il Molino di Grace.

Iacopo Morganti, general manager of Il Molino di Grace, explains the root of the issue: “Synthetic treatments of all types enter the lymphatic system of the plants. This means the plants are treated from the inside out,” he explained. These chemicals absorb very quickly and become part of plant’s inner workings, even making life too easy for them.  They don’t have to build up much immunity if everything is being done for them. He continues, “On the other hand, organic viticulture treats the plants on the outside. The leaves are sprayed, when necessary, with totally organic products. And rain can potentially wash them off. In fact, the more precipitation, the more treatments are hypothetically needed.” In this way, the plants grow strong, lush and resilient and are not dependent on anything. Treatment is nothing more than an all-natural helping hand and each treatment takes much longer to take effect.

The peaceful vineyards surrounding Il Molino di Grace’s spectacular estate, an unpretentious private residence and their many sculptures cover 30 hectares (74 acres).  Each vine basks in welcome sunshine from the south, southeast, and southwest, while the Gratius vineyards face east. The vines, ranging from four to sixty years of age, were organically cultivated long before the winery was officially certified. This comes as no surprise as it seems that for most growers, it is a way of life. We asked Iacopo if he had any “before and after” shots of the plants or even the soil and he said he did not. Because they’ve been using organic products for so long, it’s hard to pinpoint a true “before” moment.

For pest control, they, like Speri, also employ sexual confusion tactics, using the same strips and traps placed throughout the vineyards. The traps are frequently checked and any captured bugs are counted to see that the strips are working.  Occasionally, Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), a microbe naturally occurring in soil, is used to fight larvae that furrow into the grapes while they are small, grow as the grapes grow and kill them from the inside out as they feed and eventually try to escape. For disease, copper and sulfur are used.  The winery has almost always used natural fertilizer and currently plants favino (fava or field beans) every other year to use as natural fertilizer. They also manually cut grass and use it as mulch. They agree that more manpower is needed as a result, but say that this is a good thing as it allows them to be in constant contact with the vines. Plants are left to do their thing, but under the watchful eye of the winemaker and his staff. With traditional cultivation, no contact is needed at all. You just spray your chemicals and walk away.

favinoNew Growth of Favino.

Organic winemaking is honest winemaking. There is nothing to hide behind. “Each wine is a true expression of its terroir and the vintage. Year after year, you see how the wines evolve, the effects of each seasonal trend, how the winemaker dealt with each problem or lack thereof, and the differences and similarities between each vintage. It is winemaking par excellence,” explains Iacopo. “The grapes are everything. The plants are happier when grown organically and the wines reflect that.” We asked how the wines have changed and he said, “They are fruitier – you really taste the primary aromas. They are also fresher.” The winery also uses cement casks, which helps to further preserve the primary aromas of the grapes.

galestroA large piece of Galestro.

The hilly vineyards in Panzano are also blessed in more ways than one. The high altitudes, day/night temperature swings and galestro soil allow for slow ripening, high acidity, elegant structure, good alcohol and color, and a recognizable one-of-a-kind flavor. This combination leads to excellent ageability, even up to fifteen years. But that is not their only blessing. They say the land itself is blessed, having once been owned by a thousand-year-old church called La Pieve di San Leolino. The vineyards themselves are 300 to 400 years old and many references to the wine they produced have been found. Now, a statue of Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy and all things natural stands tall above the vineyards at Il Molino di Grace. Frank Grace commissioned Sandro Granucci, a local Panzano artist, to sculpt the statue and dedicated it to Judy for their 45th wedding anniversary. A befitting choice, we asked Frank why he chose Saint Francis, and he grinned, “Because that is my name!” Indeed, Frank and Francis dutifully watch over the naturally cultivated fruit of the vines day in, day out, letting nature guide their every move and acting in the least invasive way possible and only when absolutely necessary. After all, the grapes – and their health – are the stars of any good wine.

francesco The statue of Saint Francis, overlooking the vineyards.

Photos courtesy of Il Molino di Grace.

VERTICAL TASTING OF FRANZ HAAS’ MANNA

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Franz Haas recently held a private dinner for the press celebrating Manna, a flagship wine for the winery. About thirty years ago, Franz and Maria-Luisa began trying to create a wine that would be so versatile, you would only need one wine at your dinner table. They finally released their first vintage in 1995 and to no one’s surprise, it swiftly became a go-to wine for many a dinner. According to Marco Magnoli, each vintage is better than the next. Please read his account of this wonderful tasting held just a few weeks ago.

Manna 1995-2015: A Staggering Vertical

One evening of 1989 Franz Haas and Maria Luisa Manna were comfortably sitting at a Michelin starred restaurant table. They were the only customers in the room and they had a sommelier, all the waiters and the entire kitchen crew at their disposal; the result was a memorable dinner of seven delicious courses accompanied by just as many bottles of wine.

While driving back home Franz and Maria Luisa started to fantasize about a wine so complex and full of nuances that would be able to accompany all the different courses of an articulated and rich dinner such as the one they had just enjoyed.

Six years later, in 1995, Franz gave a first concrete shape to their ambitious idea by creating a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc (since 2013 a percentage of Kerner has been added to it too); and so Manna was born; dedicated to Maria Luisa, a wine destined to become one of the symbols of the winery based in Montagna (Bz- South Tyrol); a wine which has been refined and redefined year after year on an ongoing search for perfection.

Cuvee of some of the most classic white grape varieties grown in South Tyrol, the Manna of the Vineyards of the White Dolomites (this is its full name) is produced from different vineyards in the municipalities of Montagna, Neumarkt, Aldino and Brixen, at altitudes between 350 and 800 meters above sea level and on very different soils of a variable nature between dolomite, porphyry, sandy and marly. The grapes are harvested and vinified separately obviously because of their different maturation periods. Over the years Franz has continued to experiment and perfect his winemaking technique also playing with different proportions of the vine varieties; Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc ferment in barriques, while Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Kerner in steel tanks; young wines are added on a later stage and after about ten months of laying on the yeasts the wine is bottled, followed by a further refinement of a few months in a cool cellar.

Having now reached vintage 2015, the Manna has gone through two decades in the history of the Haas’ Vinery. This was an important milestone that Franz and Maria Luisa wanted to celebrate in the best way by creating a staggering vertical of twenty-one vintages (all the ones that have been produced and marketed up to today), which took place last Monday, 13 March and to which we had the honour and great pleasure to participate.

A deeply evocative tasting, starting with the extraordinary view created by the long table full of glasses and the row of all the bottles lined up, which reserved great emotions with each one of the glasses; each single glass revealed a different wine although coherently part of a well-defined path.

We believe that presenting a pedantic list of detailed tasting notes vintage by vintage would ultimately deprive that atmosphere of its poetry and it really does not deserve this. Better, then, to limit ourselves and just refer in a general way to the sensitive differences shown by the wines from 2007 to 2015 compared to previous years. Those were bottled with a screw cap, rather than with the traditional cork, and that was able to preserve a more distinctive freshness and the fragrance of all the aromas together with a more evident vegetable imprint of the Sauvignon (even though we understand and appreciate the choice that Mr. Haas has made to definitively overcome the danger of defects often due to the use of cork, we continue to prefer the more relaxed evolution that cork gives to white wines); and also to tell you about of the most mature and evolved sensations that the wines started to convey beginning from the vintage 2000 and going back to 1995.

Of course the sensations that people had on the individual vintages were the most varied: there were those people who preferred the rich articulation, the sweetness of the fruit and flavour of the 2010 vintage; those who were seduced by the elegant balance and the gentle subtlety of 2002; or by the persuasive fullness and maturity of 2006, with its slightly vanilla flavoured softness, the warm spices, intriguing hints of saffron and citrus peel. There was who instead appreciated the most recent years, the 2012 with his nose incredibly floral and sweet, almost created “for a perfumery” or the newborn 2015, which in fact made an impression for its intense power, immediate, fragrant and generous tropical fruit flavour, prodded by a wonderful sapidity and enlivened by the gentle vegetable touch (a vintage that, incidentally, seems to mark a further stylistic evolution in the dynamics of the Manna’s history). We also need to mention the wonderful nose exhibited by the 1996, the extraordinary seduction of its evolutionary tones of honey and dried rose, or of the inebriating 1995 estate, that by letting it breathe slowly into the cup, became gradually fuller and fuller, more complex and engaging.

We must confess that we were personally quite captivated by the charm of 2003, extremely rich in spices, mellow and ripe fruits, full and sumptuous as expected because of that exceptionally warm year, and yet not at all tired or sagging, but animated by a vein of freshness, acidity and a note of anise appetizing and unexpected; but even more captivated by the superb personality of 2001, splendid in its floral scents and in the delicate hints of hydrocarbons, in its return of refined citrus, sweet and sour, intense and subtle orange zest together, refined and elegant sample of balance, measurement and finesse.

Beyond personal tastes and preferences it is impossible not to admire the talent and dedication of Franz and his team of collaborators: in Italy there are not really many winemakers indeed who can afford to present with confidence on the same table twenty-one consecutive vintages of a white wine, all perfectly enjoyable, most of them excellent, some definitely exceptional. Let’s then raise our glasses of Manna and drink to Franz and Maria Luisa, thanking them for what they were able to donate us and wishing them increasingly bright fortunes.

HARVEST 2016 – TAKING THE LEAD FROM 2015

einaudi-harvest-2016Harvest 2016 is long over and the grapes are well underway to becoming – or have become – that wonderful nectar we all know and love. The predictions were spot on for this vintage, as the weather was mostly forgiving in Italy, with a few problem areas here and there. This fabulous news has had the wine industry looks forward to toasting to another excellent vintage, between new releases, barrel samples and listening to the winemakers’ reports on longer-aging wines.

Assoenologi has confirmed this in their last report, and we asked some of our producers to give us a first-hand understanding of what we can expect for the 2016 releases.

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PROJECTED QUANTITY

About the same as 2015 (0-2% less): approximately 51.5 million hectoliters of wine and must.

PROJECTED QUALITY

Varied, but mostly excellent in all of Italy, with some areas of extreme excellence. The weather was good to winemakers throughout harvest season, with a few problems in September and October in Central and Southern Italy.

GROWTH CYCLE

Winter was mild all over Italy, with above-average temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall in most of the country. 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 were less rainy. 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. While this reduced potential production, 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 plants, 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 vintage’s grapes were beautiful and healthy. Most harvests took place somewhat later than usual, about 5-10 days late. This vintage will be remembered for its contained water and heat stress and excellent quality, especially for those who successfully managed their vineyards.

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PIEDMONT

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 about 3% 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. Barbera d’Asti will benefit from a wonderful season and thanks to excellent ripening, initial tastings reveal excellent color. Nebbiolo, Barbaresco and Barolo show wonderful aromas and soft tannins, thanks to excellent phenolic ripening. Total wine production should be around 2.5-2.6 million hectoliters, while the quality is without a doubt ideal, with many areas of excellence.

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Poderi Einaudi has confirmed what happened in its corner of Piedmont, “It was a long harvest compared to others.  The weather was mild with very little rain in January and February while March and April were cool, with plenty of rain, guaranteeing good water reserves (though lower than the year before). The late cold snap slowed the growth cycle of plants by at least ten days compared to previous years. Spring brought considerable rain, lengthening the phenolic ripening delay just a little bit more. Good day/night temperature swings were recorded as summer arrived, contributing and guaranteeing the quality and health of the grapes and maintaining good sugar levels. We can expect wines with excellent balance and important aromas with outstanding structure and high alcohol.” Davide Mozzone of Bongiovanni was also happy with the results at harvest’s end, “This vintage is excellent, not much different from 2015. We were lucky to have excellent conditions from beginning to end and not much of a delay in the cycle. The ratios for acidity and alcohol were excellent and the grapes were exceptional and healthy. We honestly could not ask for more.

LOMBARDY

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 did peronospora, especially for organic wineries. The more delicate varieties (Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Merlot) were affected by the fungus, but on the upside, there were excellent day/night temperature swings and maturation was constant albeit slow. Regina Valzelli reported that harvest went well: “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 almost certainly 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 weather, 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.” The region experienced a 15% decrease over last year, but the numbers are in line with the ten-year average.

TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE

Assoenologi has nothing but positive things to say about both areas and the varieties grown there: perfect health, excellent sugar and acidity levels, intense colors and soft tannins for the reds. It is going to be legendary vintage. As to the growth cycle, because the temperatures were lower than normal this year, harvest was 10-12 days late. The average weight of the grape bunches was lower than last year for white grapes. Alfredo Albertini for Bollini confirms, explaining that “the 2016 harvest maintained – and in some cases exceeded – our initial expectations. This goes for white wines as well as late-ripening red varieties like Merlot and Cabernet. The favorable weather conditions during the last ten days of August and all of September, with their beautiful sunny days and vast temperature swings (25-27 °C/77-80.6 °F by day and 14 °C/57.2 °F by night) and the total lack of rain allowed for a balanced ripening of the fruit, an increase of sugar and a slight reduction in total acidity. Thanks to these conditions, we were able to perfectly plan and organize the harvest, picking every variety at its ideal moment. When we did pick them, they were intact and perfectly healthy with excellent sugar levels. The white wines were very balanced, structured and pleasant, with quite intriguing complexity and great freshness. The red wines have an intense color, soft tannins and a significant phenolic profile.” Quantity decreased by about 7% in the area.

VENETO

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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 ripened to perfection, especially up high on the hillside. Davide explained “For me, harvest 2016 is the best of the last five years. We experienced mild weather throughout the summer, with warm days and cool nights. There was no significant rainfall during the months of harvest (September and October), allowing us to wait for the exact degree of grape ripeness. In fact, I would say that this year we really enjoyed ourselves. It was fantastic. We found the quality of the wines to be higher than 2015. The acidity is excellent, which will give our wines longevity and crisp and intriguing aromas, drawing people in.  A fantastic vintage.” Elsewhere in the Veneto, Luca Speri elaborated on the situation at Speri vineyards, “Harvest went really well, confirming and even improving the already excellent quality of the vintage.  It was a really dry and healthy harvest, and because of this, was not quick or hurried. It was intentionally long in that the weather conditions and health of the grapes allowed us to wait for the perfect moment to pick in every plot. Drying, as usual, is natural and not forced in any way and went very well. Winter was quite dry and thus perfect for maintaining the health of the grapes. The pressing of the grapes for Amarone began in mid-February and was followed by a long fermentation. We just racked the wine and are going ahead with the Ripasso. This vintage promises to be beautiful with great balance and elegance, good color and wonderful acidity and structure. Further evaluations will be done in a few months.” As for the region in general, the growth cycle began about 10-15 days late in the highest wine-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 held on strong. Quantity is up about 7% over 2015.

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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, the weather this growing season was great during the summer, allowing for perfectly healthy grapes. And even the majority of insects were not particularly problematic. Grape production is 5% lower than last year due to the spring weather.  White wines have good sugar and acidity levels and an interesting aromatic profile, thanks to great day/night temperature swings.  Red grapes are also great quality.

TUSCANY

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 the end of the season, the almost total absence of rain and heat 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 began in late August. Native and international reds were harvested 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. Early September rainfall came on gradually, with no damaging storms, allowing for the penetration of water without ruining the grapes still on the vine. In fact, the plants worked really hard in terms of photosynthesis, allowing for excellent ripening. Simply put, the vintage is slightly larger, thanks to the abundant rainfall when the grapes were growing, but they also enjoyed hot and sunny weather all through September and early October, which can only mean the grapes matured perfectly. Sangiovese ripened to perfection, in terms of extractable color and the disappearance of herbaceous aromas in late September, when the sugar levels also reached medium to high levels and the acidity remained normal. This trend continued and thus the wines won’t have an alcohol content that is too high. We think this harvest will bring amazing results, not much different from 2010 and 2015.” And Pasquale Presutto of Terrabianca tells us that the “Cabernets and Sangiovese of Massa Marittima will be excellent having ripened perfectly. Alcohol levels are good and the wonderfully beneficial day/night temperature swings will guarantee excellent quality. The grapes for Scassino were picked in early October. In light of the rain, we waited until 20 October to begin harvesting. The grapes selected for Croce Chianti Classico Riserva were good quality.”  Quantity is down 7% this season, but just about in line with the ten-year average.

LE MARCHE

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 was 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 nineteen 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 is the same as last year for the region.

UMBRIA

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%. 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.”

vendemmia-2016-bellafonte

ABRUZZO

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.

CAMPANIA

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 October. Quantity will be down about 20%. However, quality should be among the best.

PUGLIA

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 fought off. August was especially hot, with a few storms. Quantity is up 15% in the region.

SICILIA

Fall and winter were rainy and spring was moderately humid. May and June saw some problems with peronospora and oidium. However, they were quickly eliminated quickly.  In general, Sicilian grapes are reported to be in good condition with good quantities though there will be about 7% 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.”

SARDEGNA

Sardinia has not had it easy the past three years, with 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. Some areas experienced copious rain during harvest but later-ripening grapes were not affected. The health of the grapes is mostly excellent.  Quantity is the same as 2015.

THE END IS ONLY THE BEGINNING

So what can we make of all this? With harvest behind us, we are happy to report that most will be looking towards a bright future! And we are happy to drink to that!

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Photos courtesy of Einaudi, Cascina Bongiovanni, Speri and Tenuta Bellafonte.

BOSCARELLI FEATURED IN WINE SEARCHER

Boscarelli gets heaps of attention from journalists and it’s no surprise as to why. Their wines are spectacular interpretations of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a wine that dates as far back as 789. Boscarelli is also run completely organic and the De Ferrari passion infects not only the staff, but anyone who drinks them. Their wines are among the most attractive wines coming out of the area today.

W. Blake Gray agrees and recently wrote a glowing post for wine-searcher.com about his visit to the winery. Please click here to read.