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.”

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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.