Vintage 2015 Progress Report – Collio, Friuli

Vintage 2015 Progress Report – Collio, Friuli

2014 brought one of the most difficult vintages for Italy in living memory, with excessive rain, devastating hailstorms and cool conditions making a big impact. Many grapes struggled for ripeness, making the production of the more profound wines, especially red, somewhat more challenging. One year on, and the vintage couldn’t look any more different to its predecessor.

This year, temperatures soared in July, eclipsing even the legendarily hot 2003. In fact, July 2015 was Italy’s hottest month on record. But, unlike 2003, heavy August rains softened the impact of the heat. This rain, coupled with a resumption of summer sun saw positive growth in the vineyards, and, importantly, an absence of disease pressure.

Our man in Milan reports…

The feeling so far is positive. The heat, while at times at near records, hasn't seemed to worry producers that much, especially in areas with good levels of natural hydric resources. There was some hail damage in Piemonte and Veneto due to summer storms but it was very localised and not wide spread. In some northern regions, Friuli and Veneto, yields will be contained due to damage last year.

…And discusses the vintage with Marko Primosic, Friuli (1/10):

Marko Primosic, like many of his colleagues throughout Italy, is quietly happy with the 2015 vintage situation, particularly given the difficulties of the 2014 vintage in the northeast of Italy – the most difficult vintage of the last ten years, in his words.

Marko is not as euphoric as Caterina (Il Colle, Brunello) and Fabio Marchionni (Collestefano, Matelica) were, who both implied the vintage at the time of interview was looking as close to perfect as is possible.

Picking of the whites started on 7th September with Pinot Grigio first up – slightly precocious this year – followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia, Friulano and Chardonnay. By the 29th September these varieties, as well as a part of the Ribolla Gialla, had all been picked.

Ribolla from the Oslavia Vineyard, Picolit and the red varieties still remain on the vine. Picking of these varieties will start tomorrow with the exception of Picolit, which stays on the vine until early November. The extremely small berries, thick skin and bunch form that is a little compact (I'm not sure of the term in English, but spargolo is the Italian term, meaning few berries on the bunch with lots of space between the berries) of this variety (Picolit) make it highly resistant to the likely autumn rains and consequent fungal attacks, with the spacing between single berries on the bunch ensuring that even after rain the berries dry very quickly.

The growing season from budburst to flowering to veraison was ideal; there were no climatic situations that caused any risk to the quality of the vintage. A very cold snap in January helped rid (disinfect) the vines of the potential to incubate harmful parasites.

Yields and vegetative growth were in good balance throughout the growing cycle. The extreme heat from early June to late July caused a temporary shutdown of the vines; ripening at this point seemed to be ahead of schedule. However, cooling temperatures in August and periods of light rain reinvigorated the vines, slowed ripening and also preserved malic acid levels. The final phase of ripening was slow and prolonged. The only variety that slightly suffered from the heat was Pinot Grigio, as an earlier ripening variety the cool down in August came just too late with some malic acid lost due to transpiration. The 2015 Pinot Grigios (Murno and Palmadina) will consequently be slightly less fresh.

All varieties, white and red, have shown bunches of uniform ripeness and exceptional health. All of the whites, with the exception of Ribolla, show good alcohol levels of at least 13%, balanced with good acidity levels, about 6.5g/l.; Pinot Grigio is lower in acidity at around 5.5g/l.

The white musts are showing great balance and fragrance at this early stage, Marko is very happy at what seems to be a vintage of balanced and fragrant white wines.

The Ribolla is a different beast. The berries are much larger and contain more juice (water) so alcohol levels are lower, around 12.8%, and acidity is higher, 7.5g/l. While quietly confident, Marko is reluctant to make pronouncements on the Oslavia Ribolla as the long maceration of this wine adds new variables; he prefers to wait until Christmas for final verdicts.

He is also optimistic for the reds. At this stage, the bunches are ripe and healthy. The continuing dry autumn weather with its sunny days is ensuring an optimum phenolic ripeness. The vines are losing their leaves, aiding exposure to the weakening autumn sun and ensuring the full ripening of the grape pips, as well as the skins, of course, which is particularly important for Refosco. If the weather hangs in for another week, not only will it be a great white vintage, but also a great red one.

What helped preserve the vintage during August when rain fell at recurring intervals was the typical drying wind from the north, known as the ‘Bora’ in Friuli. After these light August rains, the weather in September has been dry and sunny with cool evenings.

We need to wait for the Picolit but its morphology ensures it resists even the most demanding autumn conditions.

The other important point Marko made was that this has been a prolonged vintage made possible by the favourable weather conditions. There was no rushing to pick at all costs; picking was not determined by climatic necessities, but by the freedom to decide when best to pick and at what level of ripeness.

More to come…