24 September 2020. Italy’s harvest is at the halfway point, and we asked, “How are they doing?” about the Country’s most classic grapes.
Vermentino. This grape variety is the very symbol of seaside and vacation, but Italian viticulture offers some quite sophisticated interpretations of it. In Sardinia, where it is one of the principal varieties, Siddùra (37 hectares of vineyard) offers outstanding testimony, with three different Vermentino expressions in rising complexity, Spèra, Maìa, and Bèru. “We picked most of our Vermentino in the first two weeks of September,” reports Director Massimo Ruggero. “Then the temperatures dropped, and we had a couple of brief spells of rain, so we waited a few days, then concluded the harvest on 21 September.” The clusters were sound and healthy, with fine acidities, qualities required to produce a Vermentino that will age well. “The crop level was on a par with previous vintages. Our climate is hot and dry, which Vermentino likes, hydration was always sufficient except for the hottest weeks in July and August, which required focused action to ensure proper soil irrigation”.
Pinot Bianco. Pinot Bianco is another important grape, this time in northern Italy, where, at the foot of the Alps, it achieves rare elegance. Cantina Kaltern (450 hectares of vineyards), one of the largest producers in the Alto Adige region, is approaching the end of its harvest. Technical director Andrea Moser admits that rains in August constituted the main challenge this season, but he says, “I am satisfied with the Pinot Bianco we have brought in so far, particularly the lots that will go into our cru Vial. I am already anticipating a Pinot Bianco of remarkable sapidity. In fact, the lots of fruit that we waited to bring in show textbook ripeness, so they should give us really age-worthy Pinot Biancos.”
Sangiovese. Tuscany’s “royal variety” is the protagonist of some of Italy’s most famous reds: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, and many renowned IGTs. At Castello di Brolio (240 hectares of vineyard), the Sangiovese harvest started mid September. In the words of Francesco Ricasoli, “We started picking our Sangiovese slightly earlier than the norm. Currently, we’ve brought into the cellar the earliest-ripening parcels and some of our finest cru vineyards, such as Roncicone. Colledilà is almost ready, while the parcels that go to produce CeniPrimo will be harvested at the beginning of October. The Sangiovese is perfectly healthy, thanks to lovely heat in the first half of September.”
Also at Tenuta Luce (88 hectares of vineyard), one of Montalcino’s leading estates, the Sangiovese-harvest has already kicked off. “It is important to be ready to pick at just the right moment,” explains Marchese Lamberto Frescobaldi. “We started harvesting our Sangiovese on 18 September, but we will wait a few more days for the clusters dedicated to the cru of Luce Brunello. We are very positive: the fruit is healthy and shows a great aromatic potential. We fully believe that 2020 will be a beautiful vintage for our Brunello of Tenuta Luce.”
In the Tuscan Maremma, on the other hand, the Sangiovese harvest is completed” Yes, the temperatures in August were certainly high,” admitted Ettore Rizzi, owner and production manager at Fattoria Le Pupille (80 hectares under vine), an area leader that has made Maremma and its Morellino famous worldwide. “But we also had cool nights and consistent breezes. We began picking a bit early, and exercised rigorous quality-selection in the vineyard. That paid off, with beautiful, crisp fruit and good phenolic ripeness, very promising conditions for both our Morellino di Scansano and for our well-known cru, Poggio Valente.”
Nebbiolo. Another lead actor on the Italian wine stage is, of course, Nebbiolo, which in Piedmont’s Langhe district makes the revered Barolo and Barbaresco. Pio Cesare (75 hectares of vineyard) is counting down to the harvest. Reports Federica Boffa, fifth-generation owner, “Our Nebbiolos are approaching full ripeness, a point we expect them to reach in about ten days. The sugar levels are excellent, and the components of physiological ripeness are lining up nicely. We should begin harvesting in the first days of October, a bit earlier than in recent seasons.”
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon & Co. The international varieties have long found in Italy their ideal habitat and yield world-class expressions in certain areas that are now their “home.” Among the iconic producers is Masseto (11 hectares in vines) whose same-named wine is a legend among wine lovers, and Bolgheri-based Ornellaia (115 hectares of vineyard), whose vineyards are a byword for utmost attention and sustainable viticulture. “2020 is great example of the now- unpredictable nature of our weather, “observes Axel Heinz, director of both wine estates. “We have had to deal with challenges on various fronts: a spell of high heat and periods of cooler temperatures and rain. The Merlot is already in the cellar, since we finished picking that variety on 15 September. We are now in the process of picking the first clusters of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The grapes are gorgeous, ripe, with terrific quality.”
Also located in Tuscany, in the enchanted Val d’Orcia’s Sarteano, is Tenuta di Trinoro (23 hectares in vineyard), whose owner, Andrea Franchetti, is still waiting patiently to bring in his Merlot. “September’s waxing moon is coaxing our Merlot into the final stage of ripeness,” he says. “I go out into the vineyard every morning to taste the berries, just to measure the progress they’ve made overnight.” As far as the Cabernet is concerned, though, “We’re still going to have wait a good bit.”
In Trentino, at San Leonardo (30 hectares in vineyard), Marchese Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga too is quite happy with the Merlot he has brought in. “It’s still too early to pronounce an in-depth judgment, but we’re quite confident regarding quality, since the technical figures all line up so well: excellent acidities, solid pH, and moderate sugars, so all this should ensure elegant, crisp wines, which are precisely the hallmarks of our San Leonardo.” Here, too, the Cabernet is waiting for the autumn sun to bring it to final ripeness.
Pinot Noir. This variety may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of Italian viticulture, but the challenging Pinot Noir grape has found a home here too, and in some growing areas delivers sublime wines. One of these is certainly Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese, on whose gently-rolling hills Conte Vistarino (200 hectares of vineyards) has been cultivating Pinot Noir since the mid-1800s, producing a line almost exclusively composed of this noble variety. “Out Pinot Noirs have been in for two weeks now, and they are now fermenting,” reports Ottavia Vistarino. “We started on 19 August with the grapes for our sparkling wines, then it was the turn of our red wines, including our crus Pernice, Bertone, and Tavernetto. We were particularly fortunate this year to see a good balance between crop and canopy, which means that the alcohol levels will be contained and the results elegant and refined.”
Nerello Mascalese. The iconic variety of Mount Etna, which makes one of Sicily’s most sought-after wines, is one of the last-harvested grapes. At Passopisciaro (26 hectares of vineyard), one of the very first producers to divine the quality potential of this particular Sicilian terroir, the berries are looking fine indeed and ripeness is proceeding apace, thanks to end-of-summer heat and day-night temperature differentials that vary as much as 20o. Director Vincenzo Lo Mauro exudes positivity: “If weather conditions continue this way, we’ll start picking towards the end of October.” Contrada Rampante, the estate’s highest vineyard area, will be in all likelihood the last to be harvested, but as Lo Mauro, with more than 20 harvests under his belt, underscores, every season speaks its own unique language, and in the world of wine, perhaps more so than in others, one never stops learning.
And how could we argue?