Tag Archives: Passopisciaro

2021 Growing Year in Italy: What to expect

The life-force of the vine vs climate changes

High quality anticipated in the wine-cellar

Harvest is literally upon us with some white grapes already safely in the cellar and several red grape varieties being picked at this very moment. But it’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions about the 2021 harvest, since producers up and down the peninsula are still relying on predictions. Which, however, are encouragingly positive.

Let’s give a brief overview of the growing season. The weather brought three distinctive phenomena that had critical impacts. A spring freeze plunged temperatures that delayed bud-break and shoot growth by some 10 days, whose effects are still being felt in the current ripening stage, while the south suffered under water deprivation and the north was hit by torrential rains. The common thread that emerged from these challenges, though, was the current outstanding health status and overall quality of the fruit, a situation that augurs well for fine wines from 2021. Delivering the best results seem to have been the most ecologically-sensitive vineyard operations and precision agricultural practices, approaches that protect and express terroir in the face of increasingly threatening climate changes.   

We asked producers from north to south what they thought and how they were managing to transform climate threats into quality outcomes.

NORTH

In Trentino, at the historic San Leonardo wine estate, owner Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga reports that “the year opened cold and very rainy, which tried us no end. Then, in early August, the weather really began to smile on us, and we are continuing even now to enjoy fabulous, sunny days, with significant day-night temperature differentials as wide as 18oC. If September follows the same pattern, we have a realistic hope of bringing in a truly superb harvest.” 

Over in Lombardy, in the Oltrepò Pavese hills, the 200 hectares of Conte Vistarino allow a clear picture of overall prospects for the general area. Ottavia Giorgi enthuses: “We have extreme expectations for this harvest, which promises to be even better than we could imagine.” Brimming groundwater reserves, crisp spring weather, painstaking attention to vine-row vegetation, and a healthy status of the clusters harken back to the 2018 season, while the tannins look to be finer-grained than in preceding years. The white grapes are currently exhibiting outstanding pH and acidities, which bodes well for the sparkling base wines as well. “We are expecting very heightened aromatics and crisp acidities in our Pinot Noir, a gift of those quite wide temperature differentials in the hot summer months.”  

TUSCANY

In the Colli Fiorentini, just outside Florence, at Torre a Cona, Niccolò Rossi di Montelera has expectations for “a good quality vintage but for a crop smaller than in 2019 and 2020. Reflecting this growing season’s characteristics, the harvest will kick off slightly later than in previous vintages, beginning with Merlot in the latter half of September, while Sangiovese and Colorino will wait until the end of the month.” 

At Castello di Brolio, one of Chianti Classico’s iconic estates, Francesco Ricasoli explains that the year has brought a one-two punch of freezes and hot spells. “Still, our white grapes, which were picked already in late August, are superb, in both quality and quantity. We expect to bring in our Sangiovese around mid-September; the crop will be down a bit, but quality definitely up. Cluster size is somewhat small, as in 2017, but they show deeper colour, aromatic intensity, and better concentration.” 

Just a few kilometres away, Giovanni Mazzei underscores that the current season “is yet more proof of our vines’ ability to withstand challenging weather conditions thrown at them.” In particular, in the Siepi zone, “where deep soils and a high percentage of clay help retain much more moisture than other areas, a generous water supply for the roots and wide day-night temperature ranges are ensuring excellent ripeness levels.”    

At Castello di Querceto in Greve in Chianti, the unfavourable weather phenomena reduced the crop load by about 10%. Alessandro François is cautious about making any definitive judgments. While waiting to see what the next few weeks will bring, he says that “quality looks very good, but our Sangiovese growing at 400-520 metres still needs more time.”

The heat spells impacted Gaiole in Chianti, too, but director Luca Vitiello of Bertinga explains that “good canopy management protected the clusters and careful ground-working allowed the vines to recently complete veraison, a bit late perhaps, but with no excessive stress. These are the foundations for an excellent harvest, which we are looking for in the next days of September for the Merlot vineyards and the first half of October for Sangiovese.”  

Moving into Montalcino, Emilia Nardi, owner of Tenute Silvio Nardi, tells us that “thanks to our 2020 post-harvest operations, the vines enjoyed a plentiful supply of water, which allowed them to handle this season’s lack of it. Right now, the fruit shows surprisingly good balance and the vines good canopy development.”

Heading towards the Tuscan coast, where the vineyards of the Tenuta di Ghizzano lie in the Pisan hills, Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini declares herself satisfied, since “the white grape varieties are in very good shape indeed. For some of the reds, however, the situation is somewhat more complicated. The Merlot is already in the cellar, and the quality seems quite high, but we’re hoping for a bit more rain, which would give our Sangiovese perfect phenolic ripeness.” Rains have already been of providential help this year, and “our clay-rich soils were able to absorb the rains we saw in May, which helped the vines cope with the summer drought.”   

In Riparbella, the just-emerging Colline Albelle operation uses one of its tools, dry-farming, to prevent heat stress. Winery director and winemaker Julian Renaud explains that “we also mow the cover-crop in mid-May, leaving everything on the ground, we keep canes short to prevent evapo-transpiration, do no leaf-pulling, and we utilise biodynamic preparations. All that helps us maintain optimal balance in the vineyards and a very gradual ripening process. This year, we expect about a 15-day delay in starting our harvest.” 

Along the same coast, in Bolgheri, Ornellaia director Axel Heinz, notes that its unique configuration of quite deep soils with high percentages of clay and limestone encourages the vine roots to go deep in search of water, which helps them resist the long stretches of dryness here. In addition, “Our sunny, dry conditions help the early-developing white varieties to fully ripen.” And finally, a drop in temperatures created “ideal conditions for the final stage of ripening, thus giving the red varieties all the time they needed to reach perfect ripeness.”

In the Maremma, the Fattoria Le Pupille team can draw a sigh of relief at what promises at this moment to be a great vintage. “The rains in mid-July gave us a welcome boost, relieving the heat stress and bringing the growing year to a blessed close.” A stance of hope, therefore, from Ettore Rizzi, estate agronomist and oenologist of the estate founded by Elisabetta Geppetti.

Also in the Maremma is Castello di Vicarello, where the hillslope position of the vineyards was proof against the spring freezes, and in the summer ensured them cool night-time temperatures that warded off heat stress. Brando Baccheschi Berti evinces pronounced satisfaction over fruit quality: “Wonderful acidities and full berries, proof that our old, deep-rooted vines are holding up well. My impression is that it’s going to be a beautiful vintage.” 

In the Val d’Orcia, finally, with benchmark operation Tenuta di Trinoro, a textbook-perfect vintage is expected. Here, too, the difficult weather brought challenges, but director Calogero Portannese expresses strong confidence in those “significant day-night temperature variations, which encouraged impressively-high quality in the fruit. Still, the harvest is a ways off yet, and we have to wait to see what autumn will finally bring us.”  

SICILY and SARDINIA

Over the sea in Sardinia’s Gallura district, Massimo Ruggero, managing director of Siddùra, explains that the area did experience the spring freezes, but the impact was not severe, “thanks to our particular climate here in this valley, our crop was down just slightly compared to the previous year. Overall grape health is good, and the final crop should almost equal that of 2020.” 

Let’s conclude our journey in Sicily. Mount Etna suffered a torrid, dry summer, and Vincenzo Lo Mauro, director of Passopisciaro, helped the vines by supplying night-time emergency irrigation. “The Chardonnay harvest started early, right after mid-August. The grapes were in wonderful condition, heathy and aromatic, and they’ll give us a very intense, firm-structured wine. Regarding the reds, we’re hoping the heat will drop and that we’ll receive some rainfall, which will help them get to that perfect point of ripeness.”

And now, there’s nothing we can do but wait.

’20 anni’ Passopisciaro celebrates two decades on Etna with a one-of-a-kind wine

This year, Passopisciaro, the Mount Etna producer that launched that area’s wine renaissance, is celebrating the 20th year since its first harvest with a special-edition magnum of Nerello Mascalese, for collectors and connoisseurs of rare, one-of-a-kind wines.

Falling under the fascination of these black, volcanic-sand soils and intuiting, as early as the start of the millennium, their superb potential, Andrea Franchetti bottled his first Passorosso (then called Passopisciaro) in 2001, a blend of lots from a number of parcels of old vines.

Franchetti won appreciation for first understanding—and introducing—the so-called Contradas, districts on the mountain, as true crus, then solidified his role as a benchmark by producing five of these exquisitely terroir wines. The value of that initiative was underscored and broadened by his creation in 2007 of the “Contrade dell’Etna” annual wine appointment. Etna’s vocation for high-quality viticulture soon became recognised throughout the world, as did its powerfully magnetic attraction.

Today, Etna no longer needs an introduction. Its contradas offer fascinating readings of the volcano’s historic eruptions and imprint their individual wines with strong personalities. To celebrate this intriguing land, an integral part of one of the world’s most active volcanos, Passopisciaro has bottled a magisterial cuvée of the finest lots from all the estate vineyards, a shimmering red quintessence produced in only 1,550 magnums. The label is spare and minimal, bearing the name “20 anni” (20 years), the winery logo, and the personal signature Franchetti on a white background. 20 anni is additionally unique in that it was produced solely in 2019.

20 anni crowns two decades of achievements on Mt. Etna, the distillation of intuitions, passion, expertise, and experience. Says Andrea Franchetti, “I wanted to create a cuvée of Nerello Mascalese from all the contradas of Passopisciaro as an homage to this magnificent earth, to the years that have passed, and to the future that awaits us.”

The 2019 growing season was ushered in by a capricious spring, which brought light freezes that set back vine growth and resulted in looser than normal clusters. By harvest, though, the grapes

had achieved perfect balance between phenolic and physical ripeness, which yielded “wines with supple fruit and superb linearity” and well-calibrated alcohols. 

20 anni brings together the seductive spiciness of Sciaranuova, the firm structure of Guardiola, the delicate florality of Rampante, the succulent red berryfruit of Porcaria, and the pungent vegetal notes of Chiappemacine, crafting an exquisite embodiment of the Passopisciaro terroir.

Franchetti goes back in his mind to his initial encounter with Etna: “My first impressions when I arrived, in winter, were bleak. It seemed as though the volcano had been abandoned. Wineries were scattered loosely and in disorder over its slopes, amidst untended brush and dry-stone walls that disappeared up the mountain. The idea of restoring those exposed vineyards so high up there seemed absurd. And at that very moment, Etna erupted at the summit. On the other hand, being up there so high attracted me.”

Today, those slopes vaunt a geometrical garden of vineyards, and their vines are major protagonists in a history with many pages yet to be written. 

The Estate. Passopisciaro practices a precision viticulture obsessively respectful of nature, relying on 26 hectares of vineyards distributed over the north flank of Etna; most are planted to Nerello Mascalese, often un-grafted vines 80-100 years old, but there are Petit Verdot, Cesanese di Affile, and Chardonnay as well. In addition to Passorosso, Passobianco and the contrada crus, Passopisciaro’s portfolio boasts the prestigious Franchetti cuvée, composed of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile.

Andrea Franchetti also owns Tenuta di Trinoro, in Sarteano in Tuscany’s magnificent Val d’Orcia, famous for its legendary Bordeaux blend named after the estate.

Etna: Pure excitement

While the spectacular eruption transfixes the world, Passopisciaro remembers its first vintage 20 years ago

 

The last two weeks put the spotlight on the world’s most active volcano: Etna. 

The pyrotechnics included erupting fountains of lava that surged to 1,000 metres above the upper crater and incandescent flows that held the world media spellbound. 

In this unique, always-restless environment, continuously providing intense excitement, grow some of Italy’s most prized vineyards. Passopisciaro, Etna’s iconic wine estate on its north slope, has for 20 years served as a benchmark for the area’s wine production. For it was here, exactly two decades ago, that the first harvest of the all-Nerello Mascalese Passorosso (than called Passopisciaro) arrived in the cellar and launched the local winemaking renaissance—thanks to Andrea Franchetti, the visionary who firmly believed in the quality of this volcanic earth and promoted the concept of Contrade wines, cru wines whose world-class quality he clearly foresaw.  

Today, Passopisciaro produces five red Contrada wines: Rampante, Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Guardiola, and Sciaranuova, all ready to be released with the new 2019 vintage in June, while Passorosso, whose 2019 is scheduled for September, is a blend of all five, the quintessence of Franchetti’s style and a subtly-woven tapestry of these vineyards lying at up to 1,000 metres. The Chardonnay-based whites are Passobianco and the knife-edged Contrada PC, introduced two years ago, grown in a small sand-rich parcel at the highest part of the estate.

The Estate. Passopisciaro practices a precision viticulture obsessively respectful of nature, relying on 26 hectares of vineyards distributed over the north flank of Etna; most are planted to Nerello Mascalese, often un-grafted vines 80-100 years old, but there are Petit Verdot, Cesanese di Affile, and Chardonnay as well. In addition to Passorosso, Passobianco and the contrada crus, Passopisciaro’s portfolio boasts the prestigious Franchetti cuvée, composed of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile.

Andrea Franchetti also owns Tenuta di Trinoro, in Sarteano in Tuscany’s magnificent Val d’Orcia, famous for its legendary Bordeaux blend named after the estate.

A new Contrada emerges on Mount Etna: Passochianche

Passopisciaro again a pioneer, with a new Chardonnay

 

Passochianche, the name of the latest Contrada, or distinctive growing district, recognised by Passopisciaro and dedicated to Chardonnay, is an ancient terraced piece of land on the slopes of Mount Etna, lying between 870 and 950 metres’ elevation. 

Andrea Franchetti had already intuited, back in 2000, that this tiny plot of ultra-fine black sand would be an intriguing habitat for Chardonnay, so he planted a high-density vineyard to that grape. From vintage 2018 the winery has decided to bottle it as Contrada PC, shorthand for Passochianche. 

 

“This wine embodies the experience and knowledge that we have gained over the years with our parcels of Chardonnay,” explained Andrea Franchetti, who was a winegrowing pioneer on Etna and creator of the whole concept of Etna wine contrade. “Over the years, during the growing season and, in particular, with the ageing of the vines, many individual terroirs began to impose their own distinctive personality and quality on the fruit. So, year after year, as we applied precision viticultural practices to the various soils, experimenting with different ripeness regimes, we started separating out the various lots of grapes during harvest and vinification. The result is Contrada PC, which is a superb demonstration of how Etna, with the same grape variety, can yield expressions and wine personalities that are so distinct and different from spot to spot.”   

 

The first vintage of Contrada PC, produced in an extremely limited edition, will be shortly released to the market.

 Passopisciaro, Mount Etna Passorosso and Passobianco 2017

 

“The 2017 growing season was exceptionally hot, even on Mount Etna,” commented Andrea Franchetti, the oenologist who was one of just a handful of pioneers to recognise the winemaking potential of the volcano’s utterly unique soils and climate. His research led him to select 26 hectares of terraced vineyards that today constitute the Passopisciaro wine estate. “Nonetheless,” he continued, ”that intense heat, which continued unabated into September, with diurnal temperature fluctuations less marked than usual, had no negative impact at all on wine quality; rather, the marriage of the site’s unique conditions of sunlight, elevation and volcanic soils retained its determining influence and yielded wines of powerful character.”      

 

Passorosso 2017

Passorosso 2017, 100% Nerello Mascalese, is an eloquent interpretation of its Etna home, and in particular of the villages of Malpasso, Guardiola, Santo Spirito, Favazza, and Arcuria, lying at elevations of 500 to 1100 feet. Soils in the highest zones are composed of large-size gravel, while those lower down are deeper and finer-grained, derived from ancient lava flows. In 2017, ripening in the vineyards was slow and gradual, and harvest arrived slightly early, between 20 and 29 October. Following fermentation in steel, Passorosso concluded malolactic in large oak ovals, where it matured over some 18 months. The wine boasts an ultra-crisp acidity and earthy minerality, impressive structure and body, and restrained alcohol.   

 

 

Passobianco 2017

The all-Chardonnay Passobianco 2017 is grown in four hectares at an elevation of 850-1000 metres, where the steep terraces in the Guardiola district offer loose, deep soils of lava derivation with high mineral content. During the 2017 season, the Chardonnay vines required spray irrigation at night to ward off heat stress, and harvest came early, between 13 and 30 August, bringing yields that were lower than normal but with concentrated fruit. The must fermented 20 days at around 23°C in steel, then Passobianco matured for 10 months in both concrete vats and large oak ovals. Today, it is crisp and zesty, with its prominent tropical fruit promising significant longevity.       

***

When Andrea Franchetti met Mount Etna, the offspring of the encounter was Passopisciaro. In 2000, Franchetti began to reconstitute the terraced vineyards of Nerello Mascalese, successively planting new vineyards at densities of 12,000 vines per hectare and then restructuring a building, at 800 metres’ elevation, that would eventually become the Passopisciaro winecellar. Thus began Etna’s winemaking renaissance. Andrea Franchetti was likewise the proponent of the concept of the “vini di Contrada,” or wines reflecting the various individual districts, which today is celebrated by the international-level event “Le Contrade dell’Etna” that focuses on the Nerello grape.

Today, the Passopisciaro estate relies on 26 hectares of vineyards distributed over the north flank of Etna; most are planted to Nerello Mascalese, often un-grafted vines 80-100 years old, but there are Petit Verdot, Cesanese di Affile, and Chardonnay as well. Eight wines are produced. In addition to Passorosso and Passobianco, the portfolio boasts five crus: the contrade of Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Guardiola, Sciaranuova, and Rampante, plus the prestigious Franchetti, a marriage of Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile. Andrea Franchetti is the owner of Tenuta di Trinoro as well, located at Sarteano (Val D’Orcia) in Tuscany, famous for its Bordeaux blend wine of the same name.