Tuscan harvest watch 2011 – the complete story

Summary: good quality after a mixed season

A warm spring was followed by periods of alternating cool and warm weather. Some regions were affected by hail. From mid August a hot spell set in. In general the growers saw it as medium to good quality vintage with some uneven ripening which could be dealt with by good selection of fruit.

Paola of I Veroni, Chianti Rufina, 24 October

The end of this strange season has finally arrived. During recent weeks we have finished the harvest of the grapes which are most precious to us because of the variety: Sangiovese – which is destined either for the vintage wine or the riserva. This grape variety is strong and withstands difficulties well and even in these circumstances, when the conditions are adverse, brings out the best in itself. This is what has happened on this occasion – it has not let us down. It has expressed itself to its best potential with a great extraction of colour, tannins and well defined aromatic substances, refined on the nose and on the palate already during the fermentation period. The quality repays to some extent the disappointment of a very small quantity. In fact we have a production which is reduced by about 30% in comparison with the preceding years, above all with the riserva. As a matter of fact we went into the vineyard where the riserva grows during September and removed grapes, preserving only the best and keeping them on the vines as long as possible. In the winery, the work has been very demanding as the variation between the grapes has made it more difficult to carry out the fermentations but, fortunately, in the end, everything went well.

Passion is to a degree the hallmark of our work and I hope that reading the accounts of this year’s harvest which have gone out, if I have not succeeded in this intent, I invite all to come and see us and breathe a little bit of our countryside – with a glass of Chianti Rufina in hand of course! Ciao and here’s to the next harvest!!

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 17 October

Finished! We picked the Greco on 11th October and the ‘Granè’ (Alicante?) on 12th October: lovely grapes, healthy, mature, abundant! The harvest finished we celebrated immediately in a way to keep the average consumption in Italy at a high level. A splendid moon, still nearly full, with Jupiter at its side, lit up the night.

Francesca of Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, 17 October

Our vineyards in the Massa Marittima area, oriented towards the sea, were harvested around 20 September. They were all very much ahead of the normal schedule, with only the Vermentino having a normal course of development with good results both in terms of quality and quantity. The varieties which suffered most from the late heat were the Merlot and the Sangiovese, the latter due especially to the rocky soil in which it grows. Fortunately, the small amount of rain that fell sustained these grapes, enabling them to complete maturation before drying out.
With the exception of Vermentino, the quantity of all the varieties is marginally lower than usual but the quality is good. In the winery the fermentations, which we carry out with indigenous yeasts and without the use of any chemicals, set off slowly (always a problem with high temperatures and an early harvest), but they have now they have turned out well without any difficulty.
The one vineyard at altitude (about 400 metres above sea level) was not affected at all by the anomalous season. In fact the harvest was carried as usual in the first days of October as usual. The yields were more or less the same as usual and the grapes were perfect. In comparison with the others, the fermentation has also been more harmonious.
In conclusion, in contrast to the way the year appeared at first (which initially did not promise anything good), patience (and good fortune) to wait for the scarce amount of rain and the partial drop in the temperatures has rewarded us. I would say that we can’t possibly complain.

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 17 October

At this point in mid October I am engaged in making the wine. In the attached photo, you see a trolley of the best Sangiovese harvested at Caparsa for the production of Chianti Classico ‘Doccio a Matteo’. Next week I will complete the wine making and, with the first analyses, I will be able to examine in more detail the quality of the wine. Since all the viticultural and wine-making phases [Not a valid template]have been carried out in line with local traditions, the resulting wine will not be analysed frequently but solely in terms of its passing through processes from a starting point to a finishing point. In addition, the spontaneity of organic production and even more the passing of time will carry out what is necessary, without coercion.
I take this opportunity to invite readers of this blog to the tasting in Milan at the Rho convention centre on 23 October on the occasion of the awards ceremony of the ‘Slow Food’ Guide and the ‘Slow Wine’ prizes. Caparsa has received a special recognition for the winery and the ‘Slow Wine’ award for our Doccio a Matteo Riserva 2007. I will therefore be present at the event and I will be delighted to let you taste the results of so much hard work.

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 8 October

On 5-6th October we brought excellent Ciliegiolo grapes into the winery from the San Lorenzo vineyard, opposite the beautiful town of Pitigliano – see the picture. In the winery everything is fermenting, with healthy musts and we have already begun to rack off some vats. The weather continues to be beautiful, cool in the mornings but one feels really good in the vineyard during the day. We still have not finished the harvest – the Greco and the Sangiovese remains which we will harvest from Monday onwards. Then we will celebrate!

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 7 October

The harvest finished on 5th October. Splendid grapes with thick, leathery skins. Because of the lovely days no one can remember a harvest as beautiful as this here at Caparsa, with uniformly healthy grapes. During this last week all the grape growers of Radda have been able to complete their picking. I am sure that the Radda in Chianti area, with its vineyards of moderate heights, has been able to respond positively to the torrid heat of August. In addition, the reduced production has certainly favoured a medium to high level of quality, even if with some unevenness. In this year as in others, the vine grower’s intuition – with regard to choices about cultivation – has proved to be important in dealing with the weather which is different every year.

I hope that those who read these lines will remember to taste the 2011 Caparsa wines in four years time, in 2015, in order to complete this experience!

Marco of Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 1 October

It’s done! the harvest of 2011 is now also completed. We will remember this harvest as one of the most advanced in recent years, for the heat suffered by our grapes and also by us as we picked them. In truth, the Sangiovese which we picked last enjoyed some respite brought about by the rain which fell in the week before the harvest.

If I were to hazzard a forecast about the quality of the wine we will get, I would say: a good year, not I think a great vintage. We have executed the best possible interpretations of Sangiovese when the development of the season has allowed the grapes to mature without haste. The more the vines have time to build up the fruit the more the resulting wines will have complexity and rich detail. Nevertheless we are hopeful: with our dedication, with endless care, we will perhaps succeed in making wines even from this harvest of a quality which the climatic conditions did not merit.

I will take the opportunity to note that we as producers of Orcia DOC wine have, with this harvest, begun to work with the new set of regulations for production. It was seen as an opportunity to develop the original regulations. The aim was to make the most of indigenous grape varieties and of the wines which need a certain period of maturation, both in wood and in glass, before they are put on the market. In the creation of our wines, since the first harvest for the DOC (2001) we have prized the distinctive traits which best identify our production area. From the very beginning this meant ageing in wood and in bottles. It is a pleasure, therefore, to take an active part in the coming to fruition of the new framework for the stewardship and promotion of the zone. It is our hope with this initiative that the wines of the Orcia DOC will continually be improved and that the work of the growers will be properly recognised.

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 28 September

As you can see in the photos and will probably hear from the others, things are going really well. Pleasant weather, north wind, some drops of rain last week. We have picked the Trebbiano and today we are harvesting the Sangiovese of a quite young vineyard (though it is 12 years old) intended for our entry level wine, Tuforosso. In discussions with Edoardo: I see beautiful healthy grapes, perfect weather and would like to wait for a bit longer, while he fears the weather will change and then we will have to rush too much … this happens every year. I will let you know how it turns out. I have provided titles for the photos (or at least they should be there). The enormous bunch at the end is Ciliegiolo which in still in the vineyard for a bit longer, like the Greco and the Sangiovese for the Franze and the Sovana DOC wines. Ciao and greetings to everyone!

Rita of Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri, 28 September

Today we completed the Cabernet Sauvignon and we will pick the last part of the Petit Verdot which marks the conclusion of the harvest. The quality of this last part of the harvest is very good, given that it has benefitted from the milder temperatures (especially at night). This has given us excellent fruit.

Paola of I Veroni, Pontassieve, Chianti Rufina, 26 September

During the past weeks we have been selecting the bunches of Sangiovese for rosé. Our choice is based on size, exposure to the sun and level of maturation, with a preference for the bunches which are a bit behind in maturation in order to keep down the alcohol level. The rosé is made in an interesting way: you begin in red wine mode, with fermentation on the skins, and after just 24 hours you move into white wine making, that is, the must is separated from the skins and is held at a maximum temperature of 20 degrees in order to preserve the aromas of flowers and fresh fruit. (In fact this year it is even less than 24 hours as the grapes have a high level of anthocyanins and so give off colour very rapidly.)

In the vineyard we have continued the harvest with the Sangiovese which will be used for our IGT wine and then this is followed by the Sangiovese which will become Chianti Rufina from the vineyard which immediately surrounds the agriturismo. The great heat which we had has certainly had an impact on the quantity of grapes but the quality is very promising. In the winery, one is engulfed in the aromas of winemaking and it is a pleasure to hear the sounds of the great work of must fermenting. At the moment we are picking the Sangiovese for the riserva which, following bunch selection and after some refreshing rain, is definitely very good. The grapes are healthy, compact, extremely savoury and with lovely mature tannins.

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 22 September

On Monday we began to pick the Merlot in excellent weather, very comfortable temperatures and a good wind. The grapes are lovely, perfectly healthy, with some which have been exposed to too much sun needing to be selected out because they are scorched. But we are used to working with great precision during the harvesting phase.

The Ciliegiolo and the Sangiovese will not brought in to the winery before next week as the tannins are still ripening very well and it will be a great vintage. I hear that Italian journalists are saying crazy things about this vintage, but sadly that is not a novelty. It is certainly the case that you need to do good work in the vineyard and take nothing for granted, but that’s not a novelty either. Have a look at the photos and taste the wine!

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 20 September

As of today the 20th September, the weather has changed completely since a few days ago: finally it has rained and the temperatures have dropped greatly. This is ideal to contemplate the harvest of the Sangiovese. It is difficult to imagine how much patience and watchfulness at times rewards those who take risks. For it was really impossible to think of harvesting the Sangiovese at temperatures above thirty degrees, when we would lose the finesse and those rare aromas which are typical of the wines of Radda in Chianti! Consequently, the harvest at Caparsa will begin in these conditions – which I repeat are ideal – towards the middle of the week.

Marco of Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 14 September

The Sangiovese is maturing well. Temperatures more typical of the seasonal average combined with good day/night temperature difference should lead to a gradual and perfect maturation of the grapes which remain on the vines. In fact we have taken steps to harvest all the grapes which have shown signs of drying on the vine. Before the final harvest we will continue with the sampling and analysis, both with our senses and in the laboratory, with a view to picking at the optimum moment of maturation.

The fermentation of the Merlot grapes, picked on the first days of September, is nearly drawing to an end. For a number of years we have not used dried yeasts but prefer natural fermentation. This requires the maximum attention in order to check the regular and complete transformation of the sugars into alcohol. We carry out simple but effective practices in the winery: aeration of the must, temperature control in the vat and other activities which enbable a good alcoholic fermententation to take place, even in a year like this when the sugar level is very high.

Francesca of Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, 12 September

We are just about at the end of the harvest – which in 25 years has never happened this early. Due to the heat of the second half of August and the first half of September, the maturity of the grapes underwent a rapid acceleration. Some late varieties suffered a small amount, the risk being that they would dry out before getting fully mature. The Merlot and the Sangiovese have been the varieties most affected by the heat but got back on track with the short if intense spell of rain in early September. We decided to leave the Aleatico, made by the passito method, ie by partial drying of the grapes before being made into wine, to dry on the plants themselves. The grapes were already a bit dried out by 25 August and we decided to go with the season.

In contrast the white varieties have shown a notable resistance and great balance in spite of the season, which therefore presages a great year.

      25 August: the harvest begins with Malvasia Nera
      30 August: Cabernet Sauvignon
      2 September: harvest of the semi-dried Aleatico, dried on the vine
      5 September: Merlot
      7 September: Sangiovese and Alicante
    10 September: Vermentino and Malvasia Bianca

We are now waiting to harvest the final vineyard of Sangiovese, which, because it is at a higher altitude and further inland, did not feel the effects of the heat and had a pattern of maturing more like other years.

Rita of Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri, 9 September

The 2011 harvest will be memorable for the torrid heat of August. The high temperatures led to a notable acceleration of maturation of the grapes until 15 August which had been rather gradual, with the result that the period for picking some of the grapes came forward. From the quality point of view, the harvest is very satisfactory and the grapes are very healthy.

Some interesting technical points: the agronomist and the enologist have had to take samples of grapes very frequently and to harvest the grapes in a timely way in order have balanced wines in a year which has not been easy because of the unexpected course of the season.

The Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc destined for our Achenio, DOC Bolgheri bianco, were harvested on 24th August! The grapes were perfectly healthy with ideal acidity for the production of high quality white wine. The photos of our white grapes of 2011 speak for themselves! Between 29 August and 3 September we have taken steps to harvest all the Merlot and the Cabernet Franc with really healthy grapes, excellent acidity and a sugar level which is medium high. At the moment the prospect is for a good quality harvest. But we have to wait for the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Petit Verdot before we can really come to a final conclusion.

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 7 September

The Sauvignon is fermenting, all the rest of the grapes are doing really well. The refreshing change in the weather, combined with the splendid state of health of the vines is leading us to expect a harvest which is returning to normality. The Merlot will come in around 10 days time and the rest of the grapes a week later – about three weeks from today for the Ciliegiolo which is exceptional. Look at the photos! (As you know such predictions in this period are always accompanied by good luck gestures, more or less vulgar.)

Paola of I Vernoni, Chianti Rufina, 7 September

Off we go again! Having waited in vain for the arrival of rain which would have enabled the grapes to regain some water, we have decided to harvest the Sangiovese from the youngest vineyard which has the least resources to withstand the drought. The harvest takes place in small boxes with a selection of healthy and compact bunches in the vineyard so that only the best grapes arrive in the winery. We don’t use machines for harvest, just skilled workers who can guarantee a precise standard of work. The picking starts very early in the morning to keep the temperature of the grapes low so that the yeasts on the skins can work in optimal conditions. Once harvested, one takes a great deal of care to not crush the bunches in the boxes so as to avoid an uncontrolled fermentation starting. We try to get the grapes to the winery as soon as possible.

Once they have arrived in the winery, the boxes are gently emptied into the combined destemmer and crusher (see photo). Thanks to the steel claws the grapes are separated from the stalks, leaving the grapes unbroken. From here they are conveyed directly into the tanks. The process of wine making really begins with the destemmer which if it is carried out gently enough prevents damage to the stalks and the pips which would confer not particularly positive characteristics to the wine. It preserves the integrity of the skins and the original precious aromas and tastes for the fermentation phase.

The grapes of each vineyard are vinified separately in stainless steel tanks with a long maceration period, a prolonged contact of the skins and pips with the must at a controlled temperature of 26-28°C. Being an extremely hot season and having been at high temperatures we have made use of dry ice in order to keep temperatures down to avoid the fermentation from halting (see photo). With the long maceration we extract the maximum from the skins – the tannic substances and the pigments such as the anthocyanins which help with long ageing and stability in time. As soon as the temperature rises the alcoholic fermentation begins. With the Merlot must, which was picked a few days ago, we are pumping it over every day to optimise the extraction of tannins and colour (see photo) – obviously this oxygenates the must. The must flows out of a nozzle at the bottom of the tank and is reintroduced from above, bathing and breaking up the cap which forms on the top of the skins (photo). The maceration will last for 20-30 days and during this period délestage will be carried out to introduce the right level of oxygen into the must and in this way to improve the extraction of tannins and colour, achieving cleaner and more elegant perfume and aromas.

With the vinification begins an extremely important phase where the continuous cleaning of all the equipment avoids the product being contaminated and helps us guarantee the maximum hygienic security. This maintains the constant high quality level which our company offers.

The harvest period is always a deeply moving time when one sees the results of a year of work and one feels the must finally breathing in the fermentation phase after all the care and attention which has been given to the fruit in the vineyard.

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 5 September

Despite the heat of August the Sangiovese is responding very well. The maturation is proceeding in a regular fashion apart from a couple of particularly dry areas with very young wines. For Bordeaux grape varieties (which I don’t have) I think that some Merlot has already been harvested a week ago, but not I think with good results: they were picked too early and have high alcohol levels.

Marco of Capitoni, Pienza, Val d’Orcia, 2 September

We have picked our first grapes. We have kept the light out of the winery as a preventative measure. The grapes, placed in small boxes by the hands of the various pickers, arrive indoors within a few minutes after just a short journey with the tractor and trailer.
In the vineyard it continues to be very hot and it is easy to imagine the relief of the grapes once inside the cool of the large barrels. And now another of the innumerable wonders of nature has to take place: the sugar in the grapes will be transformed into alcohol, by the means of yeast: the new wine is in the process of being born.

Marco of Capitoni, Pienza, Val d’Orcia, 1 September

Another year, another harvest and once again it has been different from other years. What is the same is our passion for our work, with the goal of obtaining the maximum from what nature gives us. The vegetative cycle of our vines has seen alternating stages of marked accelerations and sudden stops. In particular, it started with a very hot spring (with consequent bringing forward of the cycle of growth). Then there was rain with low temperatures in the first part of the summer which slowed down the maturation. By contrast, from the second week of August onwards, there was heat, in fact a real heat wave. Now we are poised with our secateurs in hand and tomorrow we will pick the Merlot.

Paola of I Veroni, Pontassieve, Chianti Rufina, 29 August

Here we are, the harvest has started. After months of hard work collaborating with nature, we leave the final touch, the last word, to her.

After a spring which was a bit too rainy and made for exhausting work in the clay of our fields, the beginning of summer was almost perfect, disturbed only by sudden and deadly hail storms which fortunately slipped by us like an icy ghost. In the rest of June and July hot and cool days alternated which was ideal for vegetative development and for the growth of the clusters of grapes. Now we have arrived at the critical moment, with the hottest weeks of the summer which have suddenly accelerated the maturation of the fruit abetted by a suffocating hot wind (sirocco), which has led to exceptional temperatures of 42 degrees. The grapes have matured in an instant – we are recalling our workers from their holidays.

We started on 27 August, earlier than ever, in fact no one in our zone remembers having started this early. Even in the hottest year 2003 we began later.

We began with Merlot, the first grape variety to mature and to reach the correct sugar level to be picked and taken to the cool refuge of the winery. Sangiovese, our most representative variety, has withstood the heat very well; in fact, it’s very promising, favoured by exceptional weather up to the second week of August. In addition, due to our work of selection and reduction of the amount of grapes being carried by the plant, the reserves of water have remained available for longer and the plants have concentrated the sugary and aromatic substances. Nonetheless the Sangiovese still needs time to fulfil its potential, even if the hot wind of these days has notably accelerated its maturation. We are hoping for some refreshing rain.

In addition to the work in the fields, the extremely fine-tuned work in the winery is beginning – which I will update you on in my next report. Until the next instalment!

Francesca of Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, 23 August
The spring at Massa Marittima was dry and the fruit set took place slightly early. The small amount of rain was exceptionally violent with some areas being hit by hail – fortunately at Massa Vecchia we only caught the edge of it. The summer began with cool temperatures, but from mid-August the temperatures rose steeply. As a result the harvest will be about a week early: the Malvasia Nera will be harvested in a few days time. The Aleatico, which is normally picked at the end of August, will be left on the vine to dry and will be then made directly into wine (rather than being picked and then semi-dried). If the temperatures don’t drop, some grapes are at risk with problems of maturation, begining to dry out before reaching physiological maturity. We are hoping for rain!

Campo all Sughera, Bolgheri, 24 August

The harvest started today at Campo alla Sughera, the winery and estate of Knauf at Bolgheri. It begins with the white grapes Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and will be followed by the Merlot. In the following weeks it will be turn of the Vermentino and the Cabernet Franc. It will finish with the other red grapes Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of September or the beginning of October.
What should we expect of the new vintages of our wines, Campo della Sughera, Arnione, Adèo, Acheneo and Arioso?
‘The remarkable and unexpected rise in temperature in the period after the Feast of the Assumption, August 15’ – comments the consultant enologist of Campo della Sughera, Dr. Bailo – ‘has accelerated the process of maturation of the grapes to the extent that the harvest will be about a week earlier than expected. As always, the first grapes to be picked will be Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which will be followed by Merlot. The marked differences between day time and night time temperatures during the period when the grapes mature have, however, created an excellent balance between sugars and acidity. It looks like being an excellent year with very high quality levels.’

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 23 August

A hot spring with flowering being about 10 days in advance, with exceptional fruit set. The season has then been cool with little rain but abbundant: the plants have done really well and until now have not been under stress, and thus the harvest is likely to be early. We may begin at the weekend with the Sauvignon which normally I harvest around 10 September. Since about a week ago the temperatures have leapt in a dramatic fashion, reaching well above 35 degrees. Fortunately the nights continue cool and therefore, apart from some burning on grapes which have not fully ripened and are exposed to the sun (Greco), all is going extremely well.

 

Pictures taken on 23 August: Trebbiano, Ciliegiolo grapes, a Jurassic Park style fence against wild boar!

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda-in-Chianti, 22 August

In Radda-in-Chianti spring (April and May) started in a fantastic way, with lovely sunshine and sustained good temperatures which led to a particularly uniform set up of the vines, not withstanding the marked climatic differences due to exposition and altitude. Unfortunately a severe hailstorm hit a part of vineyards in Radda on the first of June. While there was much fear in fact the vines have managed to react as it were with pride, in a almost touching way, so that today we can say that the damage was limited. June was marked by beautiful sunny days, pleasant temperatures, relatively contained humidity, regular rain and noteable day/night temperature difference. The result was there were no problems, above all with downy mildew, with regard to the health of the vines.

July was a photocopy of June, with clear days and beautiful sunny radiation, cool periods alternating with heat, with rain from thunder storms and excellent temperature difference between night and day. However, again towards the second half of July there was a bad hail storm in a different zone to the earlier one, with limited damage given how far the season was advanced. Fortunately, this was again followed by a period of low humidity, allowing the vines to ‘dry’ the affected grapes quickly, and thus avoiding dangerous mildews from forming which could threaten quality.

Since the second half of August, the temperature has risen significantly and in recent days the thermometer has been constantly above 30 centigrade, well above the seasonal average. This favours the vineyards which face east, west and north, while those facing south are beginning to suffer from the heat. As a result, the maturation of the Sangiovese is proceeding in a generally excellent manner, even if there is a noticeable mild distress on the lower leaves in the most arid vineyards.

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