. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: Harvest Time

Friday, August 31, 2007

Harvest Time

I've recently come back from another Italian tour: 12 days spent between vineyards and friends.
The excuse this time was a little project I'm working on with Roberto Cipresso (sorry, but I can't tell you anything about it, at least for the time being). My hope was to have some time on the beach and a chance for relaxation. That, of course, did not happen. What DID happen was an amazing 2500 Km tour of southern Italy.
So far, the 2007 vintage has the highest temperature average of any in recorded history, with an unusually hot winter to the point that the first pruning was delayed by as much as two months. A very hot spring and summer followed without much rain, and when rain did come, it fell in short and intense precipitations. When I landed in Rome we walked into a temperature between 33 and 40 Celsius (91 to 104 degrees Farenheit). Across the "Boot", some had already started to cut white grapes and reds to be used for the sparklers. The acidity of the fruit was rapidly declining and sugar levels were rising, to the point at which the cutting was the only logical solution.
The first leg of my trip was dedicated to owner/winemaker Bruno De Conciliis, in the beautiful Cilento national park. Thanks to the precise navigation system of my rented Mercedes (the ugliest one I've ever seen), it took me about 3 hours to reach my destination. Bruno is currently in the process of building new cellars, which means he is working in smaller, construction-addled spaces. Despite the cramped conditions, he is trying to make the best of a difficult situation, as you can see in the video. We tried some barrels of wine that will not be released, even though the wines were excellent.
videoThose barrels contained some experiments he's doing with Fiano, Greco di Tufo and Primitivo. His goal is to retain elegance in the wines, and control the strong fruit that came with territory in favor of the secondary flavors that are more commonly found in Campanian wines. The current vintage was early for him as well, but I truly thought I would see much heavier damage to the grapes, either cooked or with skin problems. Instead, the majority were very healthy. The only major detraction for his 2007 harvest was that he had lost about 20% of the fruit to the "Peronospora," a mold that kills the clusters. Because he didn't use any chemical treatment against it, he also told me that most winemakers who treated the plants lost around 17%, making bearable the road he pursued, and less expensive considering the money he saved.
The grapes were ready for the first passage to cut the green clusters in order to make sparkling wine. Going through the field of Aglianico (one of the five vineyards that provides the Aglianico for the Naima) one could notice the different maturations from plant to plant and row to row; some grapes were already a thick blue color while others in the same cluster were still green. Eating the grape you could feel already some nice perfumes and a good amount of sugar, with the seeds just starting to turn brown (an indication of an advanced stage of maturation). The acidity was a bit low but enough to give the grapes a sense of freshness.
The Fiano grapes were ready as well for the first passage and in spectacular condition. Amazingly, the acidity was pretty high despite the warm weather. When I left the area the thermometer was around the 98 degrees; which just goes to show you how different Italy is, climate-wise.
I spent a couple of days in Rome where the temperature was between 90 and 100, and then I went to Montalcino, where it was almost the same temperature as in Rome. I met Roberto at the Winecircus, where the facilities are almost completed, a very impressive improvement since April. They also were ready for the "Vendemmia:" the machinery were been cleaned and prepared to receive the grapes from the trucks.
Here, the temperature went from 91 to 64 overnight with some intense precipitation in the early morning. When I woke up, my window was above a bed of clouds in a scenario more proper for the fall than the end of summer. They hadn't had a drop of rain since June 12th, and for several reasons the rain gave a break - with the plants under intense stress, the much colder temperature and the water were good factors. The high humidity... not so much. At the same moment in Sicily, the temperature was 105 degrees, and in Cilento, it was around 95. On a temperature-gauged map, it would have looked like Italy was cut in half. The weirdest thing was that around the middle of the day, the temperature went back in the 90s, only to drop again at night into the high 6os.
With Roberto, we walked down the La Fiorita vineyards. Here also, the grapes were healthy and in very similar condition to the De Conciliis ones: the skins were intact and the flavors were concentrated, with a good amount of sugar. During the visit, Roberto was kind enough to open a bottle of the last release of his Brunello - the 2001 Riserva, aged for 6 years before being released. The wine was very elegant with soft tannins and a strong flavors of violet and cherries. Some notes of leather were also showing; the 2001 vintage turned out so well for him that he decided to bottle just Riserva and no regular Brunello. We shared the wine and a lovely dinner with some friends at the Winestation: Giovanni Negri, owner of Serradenari winery in Piedmont, Fabio Leccisotti, without whose advice Roberto would be a lost man (and probably broke too), and Bob Guccione Jr, editor\owner of Discover Magazine. And after all that, the evening was just long enough for a bottle of Champagne Ayala in "Piazzetta" (Montalcino's downtown square) before my ugly Mercedes took me back to the Hotel dei Capitani, where I took the picture you see above. For the second day in a row I woke up looking at fog, but this time I was in it!!! I have never seen anything like that before the end of August in Italy!
Before leaving Montalcino for Umbria, I stopped by the Talenti estate where I was greeted by Riccardo, nephew of Pierluigi, the estate founder.
Young and passionate Riccardo took me for a tour of the facilities. They now work in 3 different spaces, the first of which was the stocking room, where they were bottling. It reminded me of when I was a kid and the Cantina Cooperativa di Pitigliano had bought bottling machinery - the members were invited for the inauguration. I guess at that time it was a pretty big deal to buy such an expensive machine.
He then showed me where, in the vinification quarters, they have several big stainless steel tanks, square-shaped, reminding the visitors that those tanks where conceived to maximize the space.
At the end of the tour we tasted the 2005 Rosso di Montalcino and the 2002 Brunello; the Brunello was quite good considering the year was very difficult - he corked just 2000 bottles of Brunello for that year.
When I left Montalcino, the weather was cold and rainy. Hard to believe that the very next day the temperature will rise again to over 100 degrees.
I got to Umbria in a couple of hours and Gigi welcomed me with a much needed jump in the pool. Although the sun was out, the water was freezing. Afterward, we walked the vineyards around the house, rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Gigi's plants are 5 years old, so they are still very young and therefore vigorous. He also uses irrigation during the hottest part of the summer, so the plants and the leaves were in perfect condition. The grapes were also in perfect conditions with very few cooked clusters. That was partially due to Gigliola's great idea to cut the leaves, so that the grapes are exposed to the morning sun, but protected from it in the afternoon.
My trip is almost over, I left Gigi an Ficulle around 12 PM to Roma; it was a very hot day the temperature rose up to 42 Celsius (107), so what was the hope of most of the "enologi" for some rain and then good weather is turning in reality; 2007 is going to be the vintage where the winemakers can make the difference with their intuitions and expertise. The cold break and the rain are signs that need to be interpret by the professionals, but looking at the grapes, I can say that they are healthy and beautiful and that is always a good sign. We'll just have to see what happens during and after the fermentations.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

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