The weather pattern of 2007 continued into 2018, with high temperatures and moderate rainfall. In early February, the natural vegetation, as well as fruit-bearing plants, were ready to start their growth cycle again with the blooming of violets and calendulas and the blossoming of cherry and apricot trees in the sunniest fields.
Winter arrived in mid-February with abundant rainfall and snowfall even at a low altitude. There was much concern over the minimum temperatures dropping below -8°C degrees and, in some cases, below- 12°C in many areas of Central Italy. Such an unusual drop in temperatures at this time of the year damaged olive groves and orchards and slowed down the growth of cover crops, but caused only sporadic damage to the vines.
The months of March, April and May saw heavy rainfall which, in addition to the winter snowfall, contributed to the replenishing of the aquifers and rivers that had been heavily depleted throughout 2017. Mild spring temperatures and no heatwaves, but long periods of heavy humidity (it had not been so intense in May for years).
The vines then reached the flowering stage and vegetative vigour, but there was some concern about downy mildew, grape shatter and powdery mildew affecting the vines because of the meteorological conditions (rainfall and humidity) and because of the difficulty in performing phytosanitary treatments and canopy management operations at the right time.
A good average yield (especially where, in 2007, the production was low because of the frost), with the exception of the vineyards seriously stressed by the 2017 summer drought (which occurred at the same time as the forming of fruit buds).
The summer got off to a cool start, with frequent rainfall and moderate maximum temperatures. Over the last ten days of July and the first twenty days of August, the arrival of African anticyclones over Italy led to a sharp rise in temperatures alternating with violent downpours and, unfortunately, hailstorms as well.
The vines, which reached the summer season about ten days behind the average ten-year-period schedule, coped with the heat stress differently, either draining the soil’s water supply and making up for the delay or showing signs of stress and loss of foliage, in particular, the younger vines or those most exposed to the sun and south-east wind.
Fall arrived soon, in early September, providing wonderful night-day temperatures swings and some concern, as a sudden rise in temperatures in mid-September, accompanied by rainfall, promoted the proliferation of Botrytis cinerea and bacteria.
Harvest time arrived at last, and not ahead of schedule, often with higher grape yield than expected due to the berries’ high growth rate and some apprehension about the grapes’ phytosanitary state and risk of grape dilution. The well-balanced vines got the best out of the season’s slow ripening process and impressive temperature swings, with the minimum temperatures dropping well below 8° C in late September.
The vintage can be described as interesting: not too concentrated or excessively green, rich in fruity aromas, relaxed tannins and salty on the palate, at times ambitious enough to compete with the fresh yet very elegant 2010 vintage.
Vintage 2017 reminds us of The Beatles: it conveys a velvety, tactile, chewy, lukewarm, innovative and all-embracing sensation.
2017 kicked off with a series of strange weather events: an unusually dry winter with above-average temperatures, with only two very cold weeks in February, very little snow and only in the Apennines. The vines’ vegetative season (and, in general, of all plants) started ten days earlier, followed by a period of fast vegetative development due to far above-average temperatures and lack of rainfall, which pushed the beginning of growth a full eighteen days ahead of usual schedule.
Unfortunately, the Easter full moon and the two following weeks led to a drastic drop in temperatures and endemic frost across Northern and Central Italy, decimating the buds and reducing the production potential of many distributional areas.
We saw next to no rainfall in spring, just here and there, concentrated in the month of April, and often associated with heavy storms and hailstorms. No rainfall at all in the following months of May, June and July. The unusual prolonged spring drought was further exacerbated by the sudden rise in temperatures, which hit over 33°C in mid-June. The summer season was marked by the arrival African anticyclones, which had been so many and so prolonged only in 2003. African anticyclones have become the rule in the Mediterranean area in summertime. Nearly unknown in Italy until the mid-1990s, African anticyclones have replaced the mild high pressure systems from the Azores, which now can be seen more and more often in autumn.
In some Central-Italian areas, when the veraison process set in, it had not been raining for over 140 days, thus considerably reducing the level of groundwater aquifers (the last time the level had been so low was in the two-year period 2003-2004) as well as the flow of rivers and streams.
It is of common knowledge by now that the five hottest years in the past 130 years occurred in the space of fifteen years (2003, 2007, 2012, 2015 and 2017), with 2003 and 2017 being by far the hottest (no less than 14 days above 40°C throughout Central Italy).
The vines reached the veraison stage in good phytosanitary conditions, with very little concern for downy mildew, botrytis cinerea and lobesia botrana and, in only a few cases, for powdery mildew. In all winegrowing areas, owing to the drought and high temperatures, the clusters grew little in size, remaining loose and with very thick skin. Harvesting, which was performed very early for the early grape varieties such as Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah, was quite heterogeneous when it came to the Sangiovese.
Harvesting began in August (in the fresher areas where sunlight and warmth sped the ripening process up) and extended into late September in the areas where the (rare) foliage protected the clusters or, more frequently, where it was not too hot or too dry to wait for the phenolic ripening to be complete. The statistical data are quite shocking: in nearly all vineyard fields, the rate of withered and discarded clusters ranged from 5 to 20%, the drop in output in the hilly areas often exceeded 40%, harvesting was performed 20 days ahead of schedule on average and the yield of red grapes at the wineries was often below 58%.
Despite all these alarming facts, the wines appear to be the result of a warm yet not extreme year, with more than adequate aromas and better tannins than what we got from the 2007 and 2003 vintages, actually closer to the 2009 and 2015.
It was a challenging year, during which experience and the ability to predict water shortage since January worked in favor of our winery. Our careful management of the soil and respect for the foliage allowed us to protect the vines. Now the question is whether such a result- quite good all things considered- is due to our experience gained in vineyard management and winemaking in the previous hot years or to the plants which, having to deal with hot temperatures and lack of rainfall throughout the year, were able to self-adjust the grape load so as to preserve the few leaves and energies available.
Year 2016 took off in substantial continuity with fall 2015: mild temperatures, very little rainfall and abundant winds.
The winter’s low rainfall helped us perform winter vineyard management practices, but it also caused seriously decreased water supply levels in both winegrowing areas and high mountain regions due to the lack of snow until February.
Under these conditions, the vines never entered full dormancy.
Therefore, we expected early budbreak which, in Central Italy, occurred two weeks ahead of time as compared with the average of the past fifteen years. Early budbreak affected not only vines but all crops and all over Europe. Instead, March reversed the winter trend with abundant and continuous rainfall (even snowfall at times) and dropping temperatures, which continued through May, with solid rainfall alternating with sunny days throughout the month of June.
The early budbreak was negatively affected by the stress caused by the reversal of seasonal trend from hot to cold temperatures and high humidity, bringing the first signs of disease here and there, such as leaf yellowing and even downy mildew. Luckily, the spring rains pushed water tables back to normal levels. The first ten-day period of July brought hot temperatures, lack of rainfall, high humidity and moderate night-day temperatures swings until August.
The veraison stage was delayed by a few days as compared with the average of the past fifteen years and we were quite worried about the risk of unbalanced vegetative growth (due to the increased water availability and high temperatures); the hot July weather caused major stress in very few cases.
During the month of August, the plants slowly entered the reproductive stage, slowing down the growth of the shoots and completing the veraison process.
August weather was quite favourable, with normal temperatures for the season, large night-day temperature swings, low humidity and a regular rainfall pattern. Harvest was slightly delayed as compared with the average of the past ten years, but accompanied by large night-day temperatures swings and healthy plants.
Grape yield was high, as well as wine production.
We made some good wine, the fruit of an “easy” and well-balanced vintage; aside from a few “scars” caused by the hot summer temperatures and high grape yield. Our wines feature generous fruity notes, good tannins and steady aromas: the prerequisites for a beautiful evolution over time.
The beginning of 2015 was marked by abundant rainfall, which actually began in summer 2013. The vineyards’ vegetative season got off to an early and luxuriant start: many leaves, many clusters, some worries about downy mildew and, above all, about another cold and humid year like 2014. Flowering occurred on time.
The rains, which fell from early 2015 into the last days of June, suddenly made way for the first heatwave of the year, because of the arrival of the longest African anticyclone that has every hit Italy. No rain for 40 days and temperatures soaring above 34°C and moderate night-day temperature swings.
The vines reached the beginning of the veraison process in good condition: a well-distributed and non-excessive fruit load, well-balanced by the leaves, low powdery mildew, downy mildew and grapevine moth pressure. The beginning of harvest time was marked by warm temperatures and a dry spell, which created a seemingly ideal situation for harvesting: beautiful and healthy grapes with high sugar levels, but also hiding some dangers up its sleeve, such as rise in pH level, loss of leaves and slowdown in evolution of flavours and tannins.
A beautiful vintage: outgoing, generous fruit and colour, but not always equally deep and fresh and, perhaps, long-lived.
2014 will be definitely remembered for its climate anomalies and frequent extraordinary events.
Winter 2013-2014 brought very little snow and abundant rainfall, replenishing the water tables, which were already high from the previous season.
These meteorological events, together with mild winter temperatures, led to very early budbreak. This event represents the first, major anomaly of the year, because in the past we had never seen vegetative season getting off to an early start after a humid winter, being early budbreak usually the consequence of a dry winter season. This led to some difficulties in completing the pruning operations and, above all, to a high disease pressure (as the pathogens had very little trouble getting through the winter) and, at the same time, to a lush vegetative growth, not well-supported, however, by the roots, which suffered from the excess of water in the soil (even cold and, at times, asphyxial soils) with leaf yellowing as a consequence.
The spring and summer growth, from flowering onwards, was affected by the frequent rainfall and moderate temperature peaks. As rarely occurred, the vineyards required careful management to fight against fungal diseases (downy mildew, powdery mildew and botrytis which proved to be very virulent) and in order to manage the canopy.
The veraison stage occurred 3-5 days ahead of time, actually nullifying the effects of the early budbreak. The ripening of grapes began in quite critical conditions due to the low temperatures (in particular, the maximum temperatures), little solar irradiance (with the sun veiled because of the high humidity) and very abundant rainfall (with the most rainy July in the previous 66 years and the disastrous downpours on September 21, which hit both sides of the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines, and the most extraordinary amount of rainfall recorded since 1962).
At harvest time, the vines had not achieved the desired sugar levels and color. Harvesting was, thus, performed not so much because the grapes were ripe, but in order to preserve the grapes’ health, the thickness of skins and the drop (often anomalous) in acidity.
Among the good news is the red grapes’ bouquet, which, all things considered, is more complete than that of the 2013 vintage (more vegetal) and things could have been far more catastrophic had it not been for the early budbreak and the lower fruit load than vintage 2013.
At the winery, we had a hard time separating the best grapes and working very carefully on the delicate skins and very fragile and oxygen-sensitive musts.
Source: Our agronomist and wine maker Francesco Bordini – www.francescobordini.it