Vintage 2015 Progress Report – Tuscany & Abruzzo

Vintage 2015 Progress Report – Tuscany & Abruzzo

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 Caterina from Il Colle, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany (17/9):

Montalcino had a very rainy winter and spring, ensuring good soil water reserves. This enabled the vines to not suffer the above average heat of July and early August. The vintage was looking to be worryingly precocious, but a cool down from mid august has slowed ripening and delayed vintage to normal dates

Light rainfall in mid August and around the 22nd had no negative impact, rather it helped the vines refresh. Caterina is radiant about the uniform health of her grapes, both in the vineyards around the winery (Il Colle), which are on the northwest face of Montalcino at 500m, and in the vineyards at Castelnuovo, which are on the southwest face of Montalcino at about 220m.

Currently, the weather is warm by day and cool at night, ensuring a slow and complete final ripening before picking starts in about a week's time. Alcohol potential is currently at around 13.2%.

Yields needed to be cut, as they were naturally very high due to the abundant water resources and high heat. She likes to stay below 60hl/ha, and needed to crop-thin in July in order to achieve this. This was also carried out as a preventative measure to lighten the vines and open them up in the event of rain to minimise fungal disease pressure.

She hopes to start picking on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week (22-23rd September). If nothing dramatic happens between now and then, she is adamant that this will be a vintage to remember. I reiterate her joy at the overall health and uniform ripeness of her grapes at this point

And Fausto from Torre dei Beati, Loreto Aprutino, Abruzzo (17/9):

Fausto is glowing; his spirit is like that of Caterina's. He emphasises that after last year’s nightmare vintage, this one seems, so far, to be too good to be true.

As in Montalcino, good winter rains in winter and spring ensured the necessary water reserves to enable the vines to get through a very hot July. Light rainfall in mid August had no negative impact but simply refreshed the vines.

He finished picking the whites, Trebbiano and Pecorino, on the 12th September. Like Caterina at Il Colle, he is delighted with the perfect health and ripeness of his grapes – real uniformity among bunches, no rot and no shrivelled sunburnt bunches. The white grapes showed perfect colour at picking, green tending to gold with uniform berry sizes. Fausto talked about how nice the grapes were to eat – a good sign. The Trebbiano is at around 12.8% potential, with about 5.4g of acidity, while the Pecorino is at about 13.8%, with at least 7g acidity – a perfect balance for him. 

Both white varieties are trained as variations of Guyot with very long canes and no shoot topping or foliage removal in order to create more shading, a factor Fausto is convinced helped these white varieties to not suffer in the July heat.

Both white varieties have just started to ferment.

The Montepulciano is still on the vines but is looking perfect, uniformly ripe and without any trace of rot. The taste-test shows sweet grapes but phenolic maturity is not yet where he wants it to be. He is hoping to start picking at the end of next week or the beginning of the following week. The Montepulciano vines are trained with the traditional tendone which not only creates shade, but the necessary distance between one vine and another that this system requires ensures that there is little competition for soil water resources – factors that enabled the vines/bunches not to suffer the July heat.

Fausto's only worry is that there is no heavy rain between now and picking, as Montepulciano is vulnerable to berry swelling and splitting, which would provide the conditions for an outbreak of rot. He doesn't seem overly worried about this, though, as there is currently a lot of wind in his area resulting in low humidity.

More to come…