Tuscan harvest watch 2014
Welcome 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 four seasons of Tuscan Harvest Watch, the reports on 2015 appear here.
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, reflecting different terroirs and climatic conditions. From north to south the featured areas are Chianti Rufina, Chianti Classico, Bolgheri, Val d’Orcia, Montalcino, Montepulciano and the upper and lower Maremma.
Click here for:
- winery profiles and wineries on the map of Tuscany
- the stories of all the years: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011.
2014 – a very irregular, wet season with high disease and pest pressure. September sun led to the making of some good wines. A mild winter was followed by a season dogged by rain, downy mildew, botrytis, European grape moth and Japanese fruit fly. Things finally picked up in September with successful wineries picking late and being prepared to do multiple passes through the vines and select fruit and even individual clusters.
Massa Marittima, 13 September 2014
This year I have been able to present in person in Tuscany for the harvest. But it has been another exceptional year in that though I am here in what is nearly mid-September hardly a grape has been picked. On average growers are a good two weeks behind what has become the new norm of early harvests. A few growers have picked some early whites and the occasional patch of Pinot Noir but in general, everyone is waiting for the rain to stop and the grapes to ripen. The winter was very mild and what has followed has been a cool and wet year, especially July. Of course, there is some leeway here: ‘cool’ here can mean 25ºC. The real problem has been disease pressure – downy mildew (peronospera) struck early on during flowering which can be very dangerous as it affects a whole year’s production and then more routinely in a wet summer. Producers report having to spray between 15 and even 20 times, instead of the usual 6-7. Equally problematic for some has been the European grape moth known here as Tignola. Some have really struggled to contain it. One grower reported that there were three generations in rapid succession and the effects on the now ripening bunches is all too obvious. Up to a third of the bunches are rotting from within as the moth lays its eggs in the centre of bunches which then develop and rot. ‘It’s been a rubbish year’, says one grower with unusual frankness.
But while it has been extremely challenging for all, some are reporting good potential. At Sassotondo, on its isolated site and farmed using biodynamic methods, we saw large quantities of near ripe grapes – Ciliegiolo, a specialism here, Sangiovese, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Greco, Teroldego, Trebbiano and Malvasia. If the weather improves now they will have a very good year.
Francesca Sfondrini, Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, 12 September 2014
As you know, having been in Massa, it has rained a huge amount in the last few days and as it dries out we will begin the harvest, probably on Monday. The Sangiovese, Alicante, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vermentino and Malvasia Bianca di Candia grapes are in a normal state of maturation, perhaps just a week late. By contrast, the early varieties, such as Aleatico and Malvasia Nera, which normally we would have harvested by now, are struggling to mature because they did not get the heat they needed in the summer. I certainly won’t be making Aleatico passito (from semi-dried grapes) this year as the grapes are not that great. The Malvasia Nera will have to be harvested in haste because they are thin-skinned and all this rain does not do them any good.
At Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, 16 September
Janet and I visited Francesca today to find that she had harvested a small amount of Aleatico yesterday and had decided to make a basic rosé from grapes that normally would go into the semi-dried, sweet version of Aleatico. There just wasn’t the richness and maturity which a Passito would require. In fact there was far less good fruit than had been anticipated and so the must was being transferred from a medium-sized tank to a very small one. This turned out to be a bit of a fiddle as it was important to try to save every last drop of the Aleatico which led to some quite comical scenes with Francesca being helped by Janet to tame the hose that was used to transfer the wine. Meanwhile outside, Franco was cleaning the wooden press with high-pressure water.
Francesca agrees that it has been the year of peronospera, downy mildew. But the timing of its attack has been unusual. Normally it strikes in June as the temperature rises. But this year June was cool with nights of just 9ºC and so no problem. Then in July and August it got going as though it was June leading to have to treat the plants 7 times. But in fact the problems were not too severe as the mildew hit the leaves not the fruit. Instead they found themselves having to do extra work on the canopy which had continued to grow. But at the end of the day they still have healthy fruit in the vineyard – Merlot, Cabernet, Sangiovese, Trebbiano. The early ripening whites are struggling to mature fully.
I ask Francesca how she would describe her style of winemaking. She replies with the simple ‘artisan’. Yes, of course she does not use contemporary synthetic chemicals but rather relies on work in the vineyard, feeding the vines with their farm-made compost and generally keeping it as simple as possible. But this also only possible because the vineyards are small and she and her co-workers can keep each vine under surveillance. The same goes for winemaking. Even in a year as wet and as cool as this, she does not add sulphur or enzymes at the point of pressing. In her view, if you do that you kill the wild yeasts which are more susceptible than other bacteria and you then have to add selected yeasts and are locked into that approach.
With Fiorella Lenzi at Serraiola, near Suvereto, 16 September 2014
Fiorella and I have a common interest in football which has led to a few text exchanges about the relative fortunes of Fiorentina and Chelsea respectively. So it was great also to catch up on the progress of the vintage at her estate, Serraiola Wine. We were in time to see the Sangiovese for the wine Lentisco being delivered and being processed. The process is pretty straightforward: destem, pump grapes into a fermentation vessel, add sulphur dioxide and enzymes to encourage the extraction of colour and tannins.
At Massa Vecchia, 17-18 September 2014
The story of the harvest can easily be told in pictures – the practicalities of getting the washed crates to the vineyard, picking the grapes, discarding underpin or rotten parts of bunches, collecting the full crates, returning to the winery, destemming and crushing the red grapes, shared lunch under the tree.
At Moris Farms, Cura Nuova, Massa Marittima, 18 September 2014
Many of the wineries in the Maremma and in Tuscany, in general, are small, family concerns. They pick by hand as there is no other viable option, and they can work with as much or as little care as they choose. Moris Farms, just outside Massa Marittima, is a rather larger concern with more options. And they have the equipment to deal with medium volumes of fruit quickly and efficiently. In the space of an hour we saw them deal first with a high-quality consignment of hand-picked Syrah – perfect bunches, deep purple coloured juice, intense flavour. Here the bunches are tipped straight into a hopper which ensures that the correct volume of grapes goes up the conveyer belt to be dropped into the destemmer/crusher. In minutes the crushed grapes were pumped into a fermentation vessel (mostly traditional cement for reds) and sulphites added.This was then followed by a load of Sangiovese berries which had been picked by a machine harvester, which shakes the vine until the ripe fruit drops off. This looked to the inexpert eye to be more of a mixed lot – Sangiovese has less colour anyway but there were definitely some green and off-red berries. In a difficult, damp season, they were no doubt deemed to be good enough. Their track record would reassure me that their judgement is good. These two consignments of fruit were processed by basically two people – the winery manager who oversaw the work and did the analysis on the sugar content, and one worker – plus the tractor driver of course. Impressive and efficient.
Carla Benini of Sassotondo, 2 October
I am sending you some photos. We started with the Sauvignon on 18 September (about 10 days behind the usual time) with large amounts of lovely grapes. We then picked some surplus Ciliegiolo (with which we will make some rosé) and we are just beginning with the Teroldego which is already above 20 on the Babo scale. Some parcels of the Sangiovese are giving me cause for concern as I thinned them out (do you remember?) but I fear that there will be problems about maturation in some parts. As usual the Ciliegiolo is wonderful and ready (apart from the attention of birds, porcupines and, perhaps, the new fruit flies imported from the East … I say this because there is a threat in Tuscany and I have a damaged bunch of grapes under observation to see what sort of fruit fly emerges. I will let you know.
Marco Capitoni, Capitoni, Pienza, Val D’Orcia, 3 October 2014
2014: another very complicated year: due to a generally very mild winter there was an early start to the vegetative phase of the vine which led to fear of late frosts which fortunately did not happen. In fact, we enjoyed advanced early stages of growth which usually translate into good harvests.
However, unfortunately, if we exclude some days in June and a few others during the summer months, the temperatures have been below the seasonal average with widespread rain. Such conditions, in addition to slowing down maturation, have forced us to carry out a large number of treatments to protect the leaves and bunches from the attack of fungal diseases.
We always practice precision viticulture, being attentive and working manually, and this is even more necessary in years like this. Timely working on the canopy and repeated green harvests have enabled us to have healthy grapes, not attacked by rot. As a result of the conditions, we are not expecting the richness of colour, of aroma and complexity which our wines have in more generous years.
At this point, we have harvested the Merlot grapes and a small portion of the Sangiovese. The weather forecast is good and so we will wait until the end of next week to collect the others, convinced that sunny, well ventilated days will bring a noticeable improvement to the state of maturation of the bunches which are still on the plants.
Andrea Contucci, Contucci, Montepulciano, 4 October 2014
Here are the photos of our 2014 harvest. We are in the Mulinvecchio (old mill) vineyard which is 3.5km north of Montepulciano (Salarco zone). These are the grapes for the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.The harvest started on Monday 29 September with grapes of good quality, much better than we had expected. The prediction was bad after an absurd summer (little sun and lots of rain until the middle of August). Volume is in line with standard years but I cannot say yet whether there will be an increase or decrease over last year. Fortunately this year we were not affected by hail. The sunny weather of September has made good the grapes (with alcohol levels of 13-13.5%, acidity below 8). The weather was good during the harvest itself (it rained only Thursday morning) and the forecast for the coming days is good. As a result, I think we will finish at the end of next week. Thus there will be a very good Vino Nobile even in 2014 … not as was foreseen .. we are very happy and relieved.
Francesca Sfrondrini, Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, 18 October 2014
Can you believe it, the harvest here has not yet finished!! If all goes well tomorrow we will pick the final grapes! What a stressful season!!
I am very tired but also contented because the wines we have in the winery are very good!
The production is at least one third down: we decided to sacrifice quantity for quality in order to make a high-quality product. In a year of this sort that was not an easy decision. To give you an example: the whites have been picked on four occasions in order to make the best of each lot. (And then to make just 20 quintals (1 quintal = 100 kg). I now need a good month of holidays to be refreshed!
I would like to thank you and Janet for the lovely visit you made. I hope that you enjoyed it [we certainly did!] and had the chance to breathe in the air of the harvest!
Best wishes to all!
Special feature: the last word on the harvest of 2014
Paolo Cianferoni, Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, Siena, Italia
MERITOCRACY: those who worked hard have been able to make excellent wines; those who didn’t mediocre ones, at least here in Tuscany which I am familiar with. Of course there were those who were unfortunate enough to be hit by hail for which there is really nothing much to be done. Greetings!
Andrea Contucci, Montepulciano
For us the final work is RELIEF, because the outcome of the 2014 harvest is positive, whereas, until the end of August, the outlook was very bad. As a result, we are satisfied and much relieved. Best wishes!
Francesca Sfondrini, Massa Maritimma
We did indeed finally finish today (20 October, see 18 October entry above). In the winery everything is going well. The fermentations are going well, the mild temperatures and the lower level of sugar are helpful without a doubt.
Marco Capitoni, Capitoni, Pienza, Val D’Orcia, 11 November 2014
Before coming to a view, I would like to wait until the end of the fermentation and then the maceration, indeed until we have finished racking off. As everybody thought, in reality we had to carry out a complicated harvest. The Sangiovese grapes which were harvested last reached a good level of maturity but it was the selection of bunches in the vineyard which enabled us to deal with the effects of a year which had so little to give.
In the phase of maturation we will proceed with great caution with the use of wood in order to avoid the tertiary notes dominating and covering the primary and secondary ones, in order to express the real character of the wine.
Even at this point I can say that we will not release the FRASI wine and that there will only be 10, 000 bottles not 16,000 which we might make potentially. All our efforts and sacrifices have the aim of offering a high quality wine even is difficult vintages such as this one.
Carla Benini, Sassotondo, Pitigliano
The aromas in the tank are fascinating with a strong expression typical of the varieties: in particular the Ciliegiolo is very peppery, characteristic of the cooler years.
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