Tuscan harvest watch 2012

Italiano: Vivi la vendemmia toscana 2012

IMG_9758-1SangioveseWelcome to the first Tuscan-wide online diary which gives a day by day account of the grape harvest in Tuscany. After the success of the first season of Tuscan Harvest Watch in 2011, this year I am delighted to say that our first six producers have been joined by Cantine Contucci of Montepulciano, the historic winery of this important appellation.

Many thanks to the wineries that have agreed to let us know how the harvest is proceeding and the unique chance to compare the progress of the harvest across the key Tuscan wine areas. The wineries have been chosen to give a broad view of the season in key areas of Tuscany.  Many things affect the growth of the vines and the harvest – proximity to the Apennines and to the sea, height above sea level, different soils, prevailing winds, and more. In other words, terroir is just as much a feature of Tuscany as it is of Bordeaux.  From north to south the featured areas are: Chianti Rufina, Chianti Classico, Bolgheri, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Val d’Orcia and the upper and lower Maremma.

 

2012 – good but not great quality after a dry and hot summer 

A humid spring was followed by a dry, hot summer. Some downpours at the end of August brought some welcome respite. The harvest had to dodge some rain in mid September.  

Latest reports

Laura of Gianni Brunelli, 16 October 2012

This has been a rather complicated year in terms of vegetative growth and phenolic development. We began with a spring which was rather humid, resulting in a quick start in terms of vegetative growth. Then there set in a cycle of dry and above average temperatures. This phase lasted a long time into August with rather pronounced hydric stress. We have therefore had to work on handling the leaf growth in very unusual conditions, being very attentive with regard to green harvest and leaf picking. We have succeeded in harvesting, I would say, a very good product, with regard to the health of the grapes, their phenological ripeness and sugar levels.

The transformation of the must into wine has been straightforward with excellent values in all aspects – sugar, akaline, acids, pH and phenolic extraction. Here we have six and a half hectares, six of them being Sangiovese Grosso and a half a hectare of Merlot. The latter was harvested beginning 18 September, while the Sangiovese began on 21 September.

Rita of Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri, 8 October 2012

The period of the harvest has been very similar to that of 2011.  Thus we can speak of a harvest which was quite early due to the great heat and the low level of precipitation.  We limited the impact of this by the use of emergency irrigation which we are permitted to do to avoid excessive stress on the fruit and to enable the maturation to happen in at least a graduated way.  The great heat of this year fortuntely was moderated at the beginning of September and this has allowed the full maturation of the fruit without having excessive alcohol levels.

The harvest took place on the following days:

–       Chardonnay and Vermentino: 23 August

–       Vermentino: 11 September

–       Merlot: between 29 August and 14 September

–       Cabernet Franc: between 13 and 21 September

–       Petit Verdot: 17 and 18 September

–       Cabernet Sauvignon: between 24 and 29 September

With regard to the quantity we are about 20% below last year’s level.  The prospect for the quality is good even if probably not a 5* vintage like 2001, 2004 and 2008.

At this point in time the Merlot, the Cabernet Franc and the Petit Verdot are already in barriques for the malolactic fermentation, while the Cabernet Sauvignon has finished its alcoholic fermentation and is in the post-fermation maceration phase and will be racked off next week.  The Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc have completed the alcoholic fermentation in barriques (50% new, 50% second use) and the malolactic fermentation is taking place now in barriques.  The Vermentino has completed its alcoholic fermentation and is being held in stainless steel with the malolactic being blocked by constant agitation of the lees.

Finally here is the data from our weather station:

Reference period: 1 July – 30 September

Total precipitation: 160 mm

Average air temperature: 23 C

Minimum: 8 C

Maximum: 38 C

Average of the maximum values: 30C

Average of the minimum values: 17C

 

Reference period: 1 – 30 September

Total precipitation: 124 mm

Average air temperature: 20 C

Minimum: 8 C

Maximum: 32 C

Average of the maximum values: 27 C

Average of the minimum values: 15 C

Marco of Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 6 October 2012

The final days of September have been fine for picking the Sangiovese. We have already said how the grapes benefitted from the downpours of the end of August but the rains of the the last week could have been damaging. The forecast have predicted unsettled weather for the beginning of October and so we went to a lot of trouble to complete the harvest before it arrived and we have succeeded in bringing fully healthy grapes into the winery.

It might seems strange that in a year of such drought and heat, rain right at the conclusion of the season might be too much, but that is the case. Infinite variations and the elements of nature which we absolutely should not interfere with make our work insecure and varied right up to the last minute. The forecasts of the news shows and other media from spring onwards make us smile sometimes.

Andrea of Cantine Contucci, Montepulciano, 4 October 2012

I am now sending pictures of the grapes arriving in Montepulciano. Our small truck empties the grapes which have been picked into the destemmer and then … they are dropped into the vessels to ferment. Marco and Damiano (my cousin) appear in the pictures. The grapes continue to be good. We will finish on Monday or Tuesday.

Andrea of Cantine Contucci, Montepulciano, 26 September 2012

On Monday we started the harvest and I attach some photos of the first day. The Sangiovese (here called Prugnolo Gentile) is genuinely of a notable quality, with very healthy grapes and perfect levels of sugar and acidity. For the time being the picking is going well and the weather is doing us a good turn.

Marco of Captitoni, Val d’Orcia, 19 September 2012

The good days for the harvest have arrived with the rains of the final weeks having genuinely decided the fate of this year. For the time being we have harvested the Merlot. The quality of the grapes brought into the winery is good.
Of course we have devoted ourselves to activity to offset the effects of such a hot and dry season. In addition to working the soil in order not to lose any water that was available, we have repeatedly carried out green harvesting: have checked the condition of every single vine, we have removed bunches which we think would not have reached the correct level of maturation. As a result, we have a reduced quantity of grapes but we have good grounds to hope to make good quality wines. A clear outcome, both with regard to the correct management of the vineyards and absolutely necessary for the quality of the vine, especially in a years which are not straightforward.

Andrea of Cantine Contucci, Montepulciano, 2 September 2012

After the lovely rain of Friday (and also last Sunday) I have been through our vineyards and thought that the rain had had a very positive effect on the grapes. With this water at the beginning of September, Sangiovese, being a grape that ripens late, still has time to arrive at the best possible quality. A drop in production levels is certain.

We will probably start the harvest a bit in advance of usual but we have not yet decided. I think it will be around 20-25th.

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 31 agosto 2012

For the time being matters look quite good for the 2012 harvest. The drought has hit hard where the plants are young (with no irrigation) and where there is competition from scrub land or trees (in parts of the San Lorenzo vineyard). Some varieties, especially Trebbiano and Merlot, have seen a early drying out of some berries – as you can see from the photo this leads to open bunches; for all varieties the berries are a bit smaller than usual (which is good). The bunches, however, are in good health and the wall of foliage still in a good condition. Finally, the last applications of copper stem from a period when the berries were very small (the last week of June) and so we will bring in very clean fruit into the winery.

Earlier on the flowering and the change of colour of the berries took place in line with expectation.As of today the Merlot is bit ahead of the usual development and the white grapes (which shut down for a while because of the drought the plants being relatively young at 15 years) are a bit behind, especially the Greco – they are on a bank of tufa and there is no irrigation. As usual the Ciliegiolo is the champion: beautiful, plump, crunchy, invincible here in the Maremma!

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 28 August 2012

I have already downloaded the data here at Caparsa. Between 10 and 11am on 26 August, 5.6mm of rain fell in two hours, ie four litres per square metre. It is not much but better than nothing especially as it did not hail. I see this year as difficult with many similarities to 2003. Many vines look ‘drained’, as if they could not now produce a decent wine. By contrast others look full of life and now giving the maximum with the minimum to carry maturation forward. It will be a year in which the selection of grapes will make the difference. As a result, I can foresee that excellent wines can be produce in patches. More than that, it will be a small production. Naturally I am talking only about Sangiovese – I don’t know about other varieties. Against all other forecasts, it could prove to be a harvest which starts in the first days of October as in a usual year.

Marco of Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 27 August 2012

FINALLY!!!!!!

Finally the long awaited rain has arrived. Both the leaf canopy and the bunches of grapes have been restored to a better condition. Further, temperatures rather closer to the seasonal norm will let us lengthen the time before the harvest. As is well known, the best wines come from the grapes of the years in which the maturation takes place slowly.

Recent months have been marked by very little precipitation and by high temperatures. We have been working the surface of the soil repeatedly in order not to lose what little humidity was present. This has enabled us to keep the vines in a good vegetative state but this downpour was really needed.

Rita of Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri, 23 August 2012

The new harvest begins at Bolgheri
The harvest at Campo della Sughera, the Knauf winery at Bolgheri, begins today. The picking of grapes will begin just one day ahead of last year with the white varieties Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and will continue with the Merlot. In the following weeks it will be the turn of Vermentino and Cabernet Franc and will conclude with with the other red varieties, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of September and the beginning of October.

Bolgheri 8am: ChardonnaySauvignon BlancBut what should we expect of the new wines Campo alla Sughera, Arnione, Adèo, Achenio and Arioso, considering the tidal wave of heat which has affected the whole of Italy with the onset of the hot winds dubbed Nero and Lucifer? Will the heat also affect the work in the vineyard during the harvest?

Dr Mauro Carrara, Campo alla Sughera’s consultant agronomist explains: The harvest will take place only in the morning, during the coolest hours in order to avoid the stress of high temperatures for the grapes and to preserve to the highest level the organoleptic characteristics expressed in the wine. The grapes are in an optimal condition because the vineyard benefits from good ventilation. The bunches have developed in the correct manner and the skins are intact. It will probably be a shorter harvest period in comparison with 2011 because the raised temperatures have led to the maturing of all the varieties whether they are early or late ripening. The point to underline is that the grapes are keeping good levels of acidity despite the heat.

This year will be a great challenge for all!

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 20 August 2012

The start of the season this year was been marked by a noteworthy winter drought. Fortunately there was normal rain in May and the first half of June and the ‘start up’ of the vines was uniform and very regular. The great heat since mid June has not so far affected the Sangiovese here in Radda. Some damage can be seen in the vineyards which face south and in the lands which are rich in galestro and limestone soils which do not retain humidity. Here at Caparsa, the vineyards are oriented to the north east and they promise a beautiful harvest with extraordinarily health grapes. The weather forecast from Lamma (the most reliable for Tuscany) suggests unsettled weather on 27 August which, if it happens, could produce wines of absolute excellence. Of course if it does not rain, the situation could get out of control but I am still hopeful. Another report will follow at the end of August.

Paolo of Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 21 May 2012

After a dry winter, without precipitation, April and May have seen normal levels of rain, even a bit above average. Here in Radda in Chianti, the restart of vegetation has been excellent and uniform, and numerous bunches of grapes are already visible. This abundance will have to limited in one way or another at various times. I would prefer a bit of downy mildew to bring about a natural reduction, but that will not be easy. As the nights are at times still below 10° C, we won’t have any problems with the health of the vines.

 

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 20 May 2012

It has been a strange spring – today it is very wet but in total we are well behind in terms of the necessary water levels. Every time it rains, it is followed by strong winds which dry everything … let’s see how things turn out. Meanwhile we are paying even more attention to the soil than usual and not allowing the natural vegetation to grow too much.

It was warm for the bud break for the Sangiovese which has started off well and then cool for the other varieties which bud later, such as Ciliegiolo and Trebbiano which have grown less evenly.

There have been lots of harmful insects this year. When the shoots do not grow rapidly, the burnet moths, which eats buds and young leaves, and scale insects have a perfect habitat. Normally this does not concern me but this year I will have to get the moths under control as they are beginning to be too much. I attach some pictures.

For the rest, things are going well. The 2011 wine bottled in April (alas, very early, but one has to live!) is delicious.

Marco of Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 2 February 2012

It is the first of February and we are under a thick blanket of snow. It has really

snowed properly, almost 40 centimetres.
Our plants, our fields sown with grain, really needed even more. We did not have a single day of rain during December and January with temperatures above the average and so this snow is absolutely essential.

During the past weeks we have been busy with the pruning of the vines. Because of the beautiful days we had, we finished this work in good time. I continue to find the winter pruning really interesting and I genuinely enjoyable: each vine apparently similar to the next but never exactly the same and every cut to be made a new intervention. I much prefer this to the summer pruning – all the operations we do repeatedly on the vine in leaf from May to September – when the working days are very long and incredibly hot. We use the spurred cordon system of pruning.

In the vineyard planted in 1999, with a density of 5,000 vines per hectare, the cordon is one sided, that is the trunk of the vine is curved to one side only. By contrast, in the older vineyard, now 40 years old, where the planting density is thinner, the cordon is two sided, thus at 80cm the trunk divides going in two directions.

The prunings are shredded in situ, using the appropriate machinery, which produces organic material which is useful for the maintenance of the soil structure. It is only the parts of the vine which are not perfectly healthy that are removed from the vineyard. There are some diseases for which there are currently no effective treatments. We can only contain the spread of these diseases by ensuring that the wood which has been attacked does not remain on the soil infecting the other vines. With the same aim in mind we ensure that we sterilise the tools which have been used for pruning the diseased vines.

 

In the winery there is activity:

– ‘Capitoni’, Orcia DOC, 2010, after 12 months in barriques, is being prepared to be bottled, where it will remain for another 12 months before being put on the market

– ‘Frasi’, Orcia DOC, 2010, having spent 24 months in large oak barrels, is also ready to be bottled. It also will have another 12 months of ageing.

In this way we are freeing up the casks so that we can transfer the wine of the most recent vintage. Until now this has been in stainless steel but is ready for ageing in wood.

Paola of I Veroni, Chianti Rufina, 23 December

The winter has finally arrived and we really wanted it! The temperatures have dropped and this will allow us to begin the winter pruning in the vineyard in the first days of January. Until now we have been waiting for the vines to become dormant. In the winery this year’s Chianti Rufina has been moved to the large Slavonian oak barrels of 22-25 hectolitres to complete the malolactic fermentation and to stabilise. The wines which will be the riserva are in the five hectolitre tonneaux and will remain there for about 20 months. The wines are promising with the correct level of tannins, an intense colour, high acidity and a pleasant soft balance. We have our fingers crossed!
The Vinsanto grapes are still on the drying mats but this year we will bring the pressing of the grapes forward considerably as they are already showing high concentrations of sugar levels. A Christmas spirit pervades the entire countryside creating a magical silence. I Veroni wishes Happy Christmas to all and a happy New Year to all! Cheers! We will be in touch again in the new year…. Paola

Carla of Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 15 December

Everything is fine here, even if it continues to be very warm with little rain – there are no wild mushrooms this year!

An excellent and abundant vintage, and high sugar levels but the wines have fermented out without problems. We are just waiting for some of the malolactic to finish so that we can complete the racking off of this year’s wine. We will then start on the winter pruning. After the harvest, the sowing of the green manure, application of the biodynamic preparation 500P [manure in cow horn: see account here], cultivation of the compacted rows (not everywhere), sowing of barley and beans for foraging in the fields, harvesting of the olives.

Sometimes I would have begun the pruning by the end of December, but this year I expect to start later since the vines are still ‘drawing’, even though they don’t have leaves, and it seems that the Merlot is in bud. What a strange and unusual year. Those who drink our wine (and the producers who make wines in a traditional way) will say: but last year was different!

If I have time I will send you a picture of the Merlot buds.

Francesca di Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, 5 December

We are now at the end of the final racking off of the new wine. Even though the season has been difficult because of the great heat and the high sugar levels of some of the wines, they are finishing their fermentations. Overall they will tend towards higher alcohol levels, but we are pretty satisfied because the outcomes are good despite the difficulties.

Autumn has not yet given way to winter and the temperatures continue to be mild, in fact many plants have not yet lost their leaves. There is a lots of humidity and the scirocco wind, but there has been little rain. The forecast is that the cold will arrive in the next few days. Let’s hope so!

Marco of Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 4 December

We left off the reports at the beginning of October with the completed harvest and grapes which were in the process of becoming wine. In order to complete the picture we should add that because of the high sugar levels, we laboured to complete the fermentation. However, after three weeks of maceration on the skins, we ran off the liquid and put the wine (still in the form of must) in the stainless steel vats. The racking off followed, to separate the coarse lees from the liquid, which by this point was wine. Shortly we will transfer the wine into wood where it will remain for 12 or 24 months, depending on whether it is due to be aged in barriques or in large barrels respectively.

In addition to the work in the winery, these months have seen a great deal of activity in other parts of the farm.

We have been busy with the feeding of the vines: we have fed them with pelleted manure, the quantities being distributed being in proportion to the level of fertility of the various parts of the vineyard. The trick is to enhance the natural vegetative and productive equilibrium of the plant. In addition, by means of ploughing, the soil which has been trampled down by usage and the passage of tractors etc. in spring and summer has been broken up. This mechanical work allows the clods of earth to receive and store the rains of the coming months and to be in a condition in which the winter frosts will break up the soil again. Finally, steps have been taken by means of furrows and sluices to control rain water, thus avoiding the spontaneous streams and erosion of the soil which would lead to leaching of the land.

In addition to the vineyards, our farms has woods, olive groves and fields were we produce durum wheat.

In our arable fields where we grow cereals, we have adopted the practice of alternating cultivation: wheat and foraging crops are grown in alternate years which maintains the structure and fertility of the land. First of all meadow seed is sown in the parts which this year are due be rested from agriculture; following that wheat is sown. The variety we use is adapted for the making of pasta. We have signed up for a cultivation protocol produced by the Region of Tuscany, called ‘AGRIQUALITA’. We are part of a process of production which is completely traceable and certified. At the end of process ‘La Tosca’ pasta is produced.

The first days of November were also the correct time for the olive harvest. We started by picking the Leccino variety on account of its advanced state of maturation. Pressed separately it produces a single cultivar oil. In the following days the other varieties were cropped: Frantoio, Moraiolo and Olivastro, all of which were pressed together given the smaller quantities.

The days and the work continue and while it is already December, the temperatures continue to be mild. What is of more concern is that the rain which is necessary for the good germination of the wheat has not really arrived.

 

Winery profiles

Paola da BlasiI Veroni 

Pontassieve, Chianti Rufina

Winefriend on I Veroni – attractive Rufina

Paolo Cianferoni in vendemmiaCaparsa

Radda, Chianti Classico

Winefriend on Caparsa – Chianti vertical

Campo alla Sughera

Bolgheri

Winefriend on Campo alla Sughera: Alabaster, building materials and wine

IMG_0219Massa Vecchia

Massa Marittima
Winefriend on Special places: Massa Vecchia

NEW FOR 2012: Cantine Contucci

Montepulciano
Winefriend on Cantucci: at the heart of Montepulciano

NEW FOR 2012: Gianni Brunelli, Montalcino
Winefriend on: Gianni (and Laura) Brunelli
Capitoni

Pienza, Val d’Orcia 
Winefriend on Capitoni: Mixed farming and viticulture

Sassotondo Pitigliano

Winefriend on Sassotondo – retreat to the land

 

Tuscany: the featured wineries

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