Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Tuscan harvest 2017

Tuscan harvest watch 2017

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 six seasons of Tuscan Harvest Watch, the reports on 2017 appear here.

Many thanks to the wineries that have agreed to let us know how the harvest is proceeding. They offer a 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.

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The conditions in Italy have been so unusual this year – frost in improbable places, extended heat and drought – that they have merited comment in the English-language wine media. Expecting the unexpected has become the new normal.  See the detailed report in Jancis Robinson’s website and Decanter’s report here.  And now, on to the reports from our growers in Tuscany.  

Latest reports
Francesco Gagliardi, Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri, 18 October  

In the final week of August we completed the harvest of the Merlot. The grapes were super healthy and with good yields despite the intense drought of the year. The 40m of rain we had on 11 September brought some relief t the vines and reduced the hydric stress to given greater evenness to the harvest. On 12 September we picked half of our Cabernet Franc, leaving the other half in the vineyard as they were less mature.On 13 and 14 September, we picked two batches of Cabernet Sauvignon which were beginning to show signs of drying out on the skins. With careful selection in the vineyard at the time of the harvest and with the use of our sorting line we removed all the dried grapes.
On the following days, there were some showers which helped to relieve the vineyard and to reduce the temperatures a bit during the night.
As a result on 19 September, we started to pick again with Petit Verdot which we completed on 22 September, picking all the remaining Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cabernet Franc.

The good outcome is fundamentally down to using irrigation, not removing leaves and reducing thinning the fruit to the absolute minimum.
This allowed us to have healthy grapes, not too dehydrated and with a good phenolic maturity in relation to the year.
The quantity of the harvest is less than last year (which was very plentiful) but not in a drastic way.

The wines are very concentrated and structured but without any over-ripe notes or overly high alcohol levels. The two occurrences of rain at the beginning and in the middle of September also really helped.
The red wines are now going through malolactic fermentation. When it is finished we will be able to judge the wines more accurately but we are very content at the moment because we appear to have a good outcome in one of the most complicated years of the last decade, along with 2014.

Francesca Sfrondini, Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, Maremma, 15 October 2017

The work at Massa Vecchia is going well, with moments of high emotion, a lot of attention in the winery and the conviction of having done everything which could be done in a genuinely contrary year.
The outcome is certainly sad: I can confirm to you a 75% loss in comparison with an average production. The frosts of late April and the drought of this endless summer has meant a battle against indomitable opposition.
The vineyard which has done the best is Fornace and had it not been for the frost it would have been perhaps its first really productive year (this particular vineyard is situated at nearly 500 metres of altitude and is not afraid of drought).
The wines which in theory ought to be made are a white (a blend of all the estate’s varieties), il Berace (which will include the fruit that should go into La Querciola [their top Sangiovese vineyard] with Cabernet Sauvignon), the rosé (made only with Malvasia Nera), the Sangiovese and an unusual dried-grape wine (instead of the Aleatico dried on the vine I have dried Sangiovese on the vine).

Marco Capitoni, Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 2 October

We have finished harvesting. Now it is a matter of doing pump-overs, punch downs and a thousand things in order to make the best wine possible. We brought excellent fruit into the winery. The final rains helped to balance the sugars and acidity, and the other values also reached a good level of maturity.

We manage our vineyards with the aim of always producing a low quantity of grapes per plant. But the drought and the high temperatures of the last months have led to a big and important fall in the yield. In addition to this year’s weather damage was caused by an enormous number of roe deer and wild boar. Year after year, the wild boar are reaching levels which are genuinely concerning.

Carla Benini, Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 2 October

We picked the last grapes: Trebbiano for our white wine on 26 September, Nocchianello nero (ancient variety of Pitigliano) on 27 September, at least the little that remained after the endless visits of wild boar and roe deer. Generally the grapes are of good quality but a small amount, 30% lost to the spring frosts and drought in all the vineyards. The Ciliegiolo is very good indeed but was particularly hit by the wild animals despite our electric fences. There is no doubt that the quantity will be small but I can’t yet say about the quality. The grapes were beautiful but at times the tannins were not perfectly ripe … we will see when we taste them after malolactic fermentation. I am sending the final photos – with the selfie with Edoardo and all of us, none of us are getting any younger!

Paolo Cianferoni, Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 2 October

The harvest at Radda in Chianti and in particular here at Caparsa has gone very well because we are in a cool zone and the rains arrived from the beginning of September. Having spoken to the other producers it seems that many of them are genuinely satisfied.
We finished the harvesting on 27 September (having begun on 11 September) which meant that the harvest turned out to be very unrushed.
Of course the quantity is virtually halved and for this reason we will probably put up prices.

Andrea Contucci, Contucci, Montepulciano, 24 September

Here is my presentation on our harvest of 2017. We began on 11 September, much in advance of every other harvest in the past (we have never started before 22 September previously). As you already know, this year will be a very small harvest in terms of quantity, the drop will be more than 30%. I can’t say yet exactly how much we will be down on 2016 as we won’t finish for two or three days.

Our morale is lifted by the excellent quality of the Sangiovese: we are bringing perfect grapes into the winery, without any signs of mould or raisining … The berries are not that big but neither are they too small, the skins are perfect and they are not dehydrated. The other local varieties (Canaiolo Nero and Colorino) which we use to complete our blend for Vino Nobile wines (they contribute about 20%) are as good as the Sangiovese, here called Prugnolo Gentile. This makes me think that 2017 will be a 4 or 5 star vintage for our loved Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

I attach some photos of the harvest.

Carla Benini, Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 14 September

We are in full harvest here. First, we picked all the fruit damaged by drought and the wild boar, attempting to clean up the vines. What remains on the plants is good and the weather in September is perfect: welcome rainfall reduced the vines’ respiration, the cool nights have refreshed the grapes, the not overly warm days have refreshed us poor human beings.
Nonetheless, the harvest is sparse: the frost in spring and the lack of rain by themselves reduced production by about 20%; another 15-20% drop can be put down to the wild boar this year, who did not have food or water. They have been relentless in the vineyards despite the electric fences.
I am furious with the hunters’ associations who permit the uncontrolled proliferation of these wild animals; and then, in addition, they mock the damage. I have requested compensation but they have only recognised a few quintals rather than my estimate of several dozen.

Paolo Cianferoni, Caparsa, Radda in Chianti, 11 September

The harvest at Caparsa began today, three weeks early due to the meteorological conditions during the summer – no rain and great heat. At Caparsa, despite the adverse conditions, the situation is good. The Sangiovese looks like having between 13.5 and 14% with a good acidity which will ensure a lovely quality. Remembering that Caparsa is situated in the north east and therefore can benefit from a lack of climatic extremes. We estimate a reduction of around 40-45% of the normal production.

Francesco Gagliardi, Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri, 1 September 
We began the picking on 18 August with the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes which we use to produce our Bolgheri DOC Bianco ‘Achenio’. The grapes were perfectly healthy and the wine is just in the process of completing the alcoholic fermentation in barriques and tonneaux.


Between 23 and 30 August, we completed the picking of the Merlot. The Merlot also is healthy without particular drying out of the skins which is very common in a year as torrid and drought-hit as this one. 

In a year this hot and with the reduced yield we avoided leaf removal and bunch thinning and me made use of our emergency irrigation system.  We are at the moment achieving a gradual maturation and avoiding excessively high potential alcohol levels.
During the night of 1 September, there was 40mm of rain which soaked the ground well and the temperature dropped by 5-6ºC in comparison to the torrid fortnight before that.  We are confident therefore to be able to go on with the harvest, avoiding picking grapes will skins which are not yet ripe.  

Francesca Sfondrini, Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, Maremma, 21 August

We have started the harvest! Sangiovese and Alicante grapes from the Querciola vineyard: only one-third of the normal harvest. This is in part because nearly a half has remained on the vines drying out (to make a passito wine – see Massa Vecchia’s entry of 17 August). There will probably be no single vineyard La Querciola wine in 2017 but we will make Il Berace using the Cabernet Sauvignon which we will harvest shortly … we will see!  

An interview with Paolo Cianferoni, Caparsa, Radda in Chianti: Forecast for the harvest 2017

Paolo, what is the situation like from your point of view?

“The situation is critical, to say the least. For the land and its products: wine, but also for the chestnuts and the olives. People shop at the supermarket and do not perceive that nature is suffering: for this year the word ‘famine’ would not be an overstatement”.  Read more here on WeChianti

Carla Benini, Sassotondo, Pitigliano, 17 August

Summary of the season: dry and hot winter, January was cold for a short period, then average temperature (the new warmer average), little or no precipitation throughout. Three days of frost at the end of April which damaged lower lying areas where the cold air stagnates, however it was less grave than the frost of 2016. Then hot and dry, with temperatures in the second part of July around 37º with peaks of 40ºC.
I had to activate the drip irrigation on my young vineyards. The older vineyards are fine for the time being: the temperature has now dropped and the nights are refreshing, below 20ºC. We also had a night of rain which has alleviated the great drought.
the season has been very advanced even at the point of flowering, way ahead of itself, around 10-15 days. We harvested the Sauvignon Blanc before 15 August (Ferragosto holiday) because it was already pretty ripe and because the deer were eating it all (the wild boar prefer the Ciliegiolo variety!)
I am sending you some photos:

When I have sorted things out I will send some information about two research projects which we are involved in: the traceability of wine on the basis of isotopes in the soil (University of Florence, Ines Tescione and Prof. Sandro Conticelli), analysis of the micro terroir with soil pits in the vineyard and study of the profile (with Pedro Parra). They are two really interesting things and the second has connections with the Volcanic Wines project of John Szabo.

Francesca Sfondrini, Massa Vecchia, Massa Marittima, Maremma, 17 August

Unfortunately, this year here has not been very good. The conditions have been very difficult with heat and drought which have not been favourable not just for the vine but also for everything that lives: plants, animals, human beings … to think that in the woods the oaks are completely brown, like in autumn and are losing their leaves…

It only rained in autumn and then in February. Since then there have been only two days of rain in our area: 28 June and last Saturday. The maximum temperatures at the beginning of August and for 10 days were around 40 degrees and also at night they did not drop below 25/26.  

In addition, apart from 10 days of cold in January, the winter was mild … and we got a proper frost on 21 April which burned about 30% of the production, even 50% in some vineyards…

As a result after all this, we thought that we had paid our dues for the year. However, the drought and the heat was worse. Fortunately, our vineyards are old and the soil clayey, so that at least deep down they are always moist, so the plants did not suffer in themselves. It’s a completely different matter if one speaks about the grapes.  

Actually we have lost about 70% of the Merlot which dried up before maturing and which will be the first to be harvested, probably next week. We won’t be making a dry wine but a passito (wine from dried grapes) with the grapes which are still edible: this Sunday doing the sampling in the vineyard the potential alcohol was already 16.5%; at this point, we would expect to have the right parameters to make a passito wine.  

With regard to the other vineyards, the Querciola vineyard, with its stony soil, is very advanced and probably its Sangiovese will be the second to be picked: some of them are also drying out, while the Alicante ( = Grenache) has shut down because of too much heat but due to the rain is picking up its maturation again.  

The Aleatico which we make a passito will probably do its drying-out on the plant, as in 2011 (we thought and hoped that that was not possible … but on the contrary!) 

Where the grapes have not suffered through the heat they are beautiful.  The Beruzzo vineyard with Vermentino and Malvasia Nera and the Fornace vineyard at 450 metres and with clay soil are great.  In Beruzzo there are very few grapes due to the frost of April (all the Malvasia Bianca di Candida was hit: there will be 20 kilos of it), but that’s how it is.  

We think that if it goes on like this we will have to harvest very early in the morning to maintain the lowest temperature possible (today it was again 35ºC at 11 in the morning!) After the rain the temperatures returned to normal but given that it is still summer the sun beats down.  

For now that’s all … 

Marco Capitoni, Capitoni, Val d’Orcia, 17 August

We should define 2017 as the year of extreme drought: very little rainfall either in winter or spring, conditions which have been very protracted, topped by temperature which have been often above 30 degrees. In the month of July we had two bouts of rain, not much, but definitive to allow the vines to follow through the phenolic phases. Throughout all of this period, opportunities to work the soil have allowed us to conserve the small amount of available water. The work was carried out in a way to help the vines to survive the difficult climatic conditions. Most appreciated of all have been the day/night temperature differences. Very hot days have alternated with fresher nights, a benefit for the leaves and the bunches.

The restart of vegetative growth was earlier than usual, just as the flowering and veraison were early and at the moment it looks like the harvest will also be earlier than usual. For the whole period the vines have had a contained canopy and the number and size of the bunches are also limited – this latter Sangiovese really enjoys.
Until today a bit more rain would allow the grapes to achieve a complete maturation. All in all, again we must cross our fingers and look up to the skies. It will be our concern to keep you informed: here’s to the next update.  

Andrea Contucci, Cantine Contucci, Montepulciano, 14 August

As you well know, 2017 has been a difficult year, especially because of the frosts of 20 April for three days. These hit the vineyards, lightly reducing the production of grapes. Then the extreme heat and lack of water at the beginning of the summer have further confirmed a year of small production. It is difficult today to forecast how much the fall in production will be but I would estimate 10-20%. Fortunately the grapes are healthy as there have not been problems with downy mildew, powdery mildew or insects. There will definitely be an early beginning to the harvest, we will see later by how much.  

Francesco Gagliardi, Campo alla Sughera, Bolgheri, 10 August 
Winter and spring were characterized by a lack of precipitation. In April we had 10 days of very low temperatures right down to 2ºC but fortunately they did not dip below zero.  The summer has been very hot with small day/night temperature difference and a continuing absence of precipitation.  We have used our irrigation system from the end of May on to contain the hydric stress.  The yield of grapes in the vineyard is not abundant but the grapes are healthy.  The Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot are not far off being mature and we anticipate beginning harvesting about 10 days earlier than last year.  I will repeat the sampling process after 15 August to come to an assessment.  
Photos from Sassotondo, Pitigliano
1. beginning of flowering 20 April.  2. beginning of veraison 11 July.  3. Ciliegiolo attached by wild boar.   
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