Posted by Barbara Kronenberg-Widmer
The Chianti weather continues to be dreamlike. If the days were not getting shorter, you would not realize that it is almost mid-September. Moreover, the weather forecast for the coming weeks promises stable temperatures, despite the fact that the risk of thunderstorms is supposed to increase heavily in the next 15 days.
So everything looks like an ideal harvest, and the grapes still in the vineyards are all healthy and in good condition. Even some splashes of rain would not hurt at this stage and would be welcome to a certain extent—the small lakes on our two Chianti Classico estates are nearly dried up. So what's the problem?
The threat now is the increasing risk of hail due to the forecasted thunderstorms. The chances of hail are actually enhanced by the warm weather, as thunderstorms with hot temperatures generate more hail and larger hailstones, due to the enormous temperature differences in the “eye of the storm." Hail can destroy an entire harvest and damage a vine so badly that the plant will need more than a year to recover, meaning lower yields in the following vintage. In moments like this you are dramatically reminded that you are a farmer, totally dependent on and exposed to nature's unpredictable powers.
Our two Chianti Classico estates sit six miles away from each other—one in Radda in Chianti and one in Castellina in Chianti. On Sunday, there was sunshine all day in Castellina, while in Radda, it was raining in the afternoon. Just five miles southeast of our Radda estate, several acres of vineyards were destroyed in 30 minutes by hailstones as big as golf balls. Due to the Chianti Classico landscape, with all its hills and valleys, the weather changes within a couple of miles—microclimate and luck make all the difference in the end. This means huge differences in the wine quality between estates in the rather small Chianti Classico area, which makes general judgments on a vintage of Chianti Classico very difficult.
In the Maremma, to the southwest, the harvest is proceeding well and we have finished picking Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The young wines in the vats are exciting. The Merlot is my favorite so far and this means a lot. Up to two years ago, I was convinced that Merlot ripens too fast in the Maremma to become anything interesting. I now have to change my view on this. We have harvested half of the Sangiovese now, and the various measures we took to reduce yields are showing very good results—the grapes are dense and of incredible dark color. We will have to start picking Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot from the younger vineyards in the next few days as the young plants are now suffering too much from the heat—some single berries have already become raisins. For the older vineyards, we will wait another week.
Back in Chianti Classico, we started harvesting Merlot on Monday and are all very happy that we were patient enough to wait for this perfect picking time. At the moment the work atmosphere here is still very relaxed, but these hot September days create a risk that all vineyards will suddenly be ready to harvest in one go. If the work gets hectic , I will let you know.
Rob Lentini — Alexandria, Virginia — September 11, 2008 3:02pm ET
Niall Cosgrove — Ireland — September 12, 2008 4:45am ET
Teri Valls — Atlanta, GA — June 18, 2010 8:15am ET
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