Vintage 2015 Progress Report – Langhe, Piemonte

Vintage 2015 Progress Report – Langhe, Piemonte

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 Flavio Rodollo, Piemonte (21/9):

The sun continues to shine, at least in the North.

The Italian Union of Agriculturists (Coldiretti), which represents all agricultural sectors and closely monitors agricultural production at regular intervals throughout the growing season, has reported a high level of optimism for both the quality and quantity of wine grapes in Piemonte. They are anticipating slightly lower yields for Dolcetto and Nebbiolo compared to last year. However, the overall picture does not consider individual realities.

This is what Flavio Roddolo, had to say about his 2015 vintage.

This applies to his vineyards in Monforte, conditions may or may not be similar for other producers in the immediate vicinity. Certainly the southern parts of the Barolo DOCG extending down to Dogliani may have suffered hail damage. Nicoletta Boca's vineyards at San Fereolo suffered massive hail damage in June and as a consequence she will be lucky to harvest any grapes at all

Flavio noted early on in spring that this would be a very low yielding vintage in his vineyards. This resulted from the hail damage in July of the previous year (2014) and a subsequent and prolonged period of rain that caused damage to the vine's wood (canes) and latent buds. For this reason, pruning was very difficult this year as many canes had very few buds.

From the time of pruning in winter, Flavio noticed this would be a naturally low yielding vintage.

Because of the naturally low yields and the high heat in June, which continued and increased in July, ripening was accelerated, with veraison complete by the beginning of July – in more normal years this does not happen until at least mid July. Despite the high heat, the vines did not suffer and there was no premature berry shrivelling. This is because of the abundant rains in winter and spring, ensuring that groundwater reserves were plentiful. This has also been the case in other regions: Collestefano (Matelica, Le Marche) and Torre dei Beati (Loreto Aprutino, Abruzzo) both attributed what looks like a great vintage to the good winter/spring rainfall that enabled vines to get through the high heat of July without suffering.

Flavio pointed out that this was not the case in 2007 and 2009, two vintages with hot summers but both coming off a very dry winter and spring, causing heat stress and a degree of premature ripening.

So, 2015, despite the naturally low yields, was looking to be a very good vintage until hail struck in mid August. This caused a further loss of yield and accelerated ripening even more – vines were left with so few bunches that the perfect weather that followed the hail damage meant the ripening was inevitably accelerated. What little fruit has remained on Flavio's vine is of very high quality

The extent of the hail damage has been to reduce yields to about a third of the average.

Flavio finished picking his Barbera on Thursday 17th September and his Dolcetto the previous week. His entire Cabernet crop, used for Bricco Appiani, was wiped out.

He will start harvesting his Nebbiolo next week, the week of 23rd September, and is sure that all will be harvested by the end of September, this has never happened before during his time as a grape grower – usually the Nebbiolo harvest extends well into October. Alcohol levels for his Nebbiolo will be over 14%.

Flavio is dejected by the low yields but happy with the quality of his grapes.

More to come…