The 2009 harvest is proceeding very well and progressing quickly. The harvest of Nebbiolo grapes began on Monday, Sept. 21. Since then, picking has been going on every day, with Sundays being the only rest days.
The Sunday breaks are much needed, allowing the winery to "regroup" and rack the tanks, and giving the weary pickers a chance to rest. If we continue at this pace, weather permitting, we will likely finish this week, one week earlier than last year.
During the first two weeks of September, we enjoyed moderate temperatures, a welcome relief after the heat of August. The afternoon of Sept. 19 brought clouds and a few drops of rain. However, since we started the Nebbiolo harvest, the days have all been sunny and warm, with average temperatures of 25º C (77º F), allowing the grapes in all of our vineyards to fully ripen.
Our vineyards are quite spread out, and are divided into plots averaging 2.5 hectares (a little more than 6 acres). Most of the vineyards are in and around the village of Barbaresco, except for two in the Barolo zone: Sperss in Serralunga and Conteisa in La Morra (an average of 15 km miles from our winery).
Harvesting began with the Nebbiolo in the Barbaresco district. The first vineyard was Bernino, one of the 14 vineyards that supply the grapes for our flagship Barbaresco. On Sept. 23, we continued harvesting other Nebbiolo vineyards in Barbaresco (Pajorè, Trifolera, Bricco, Ovello and younger vines of Nebbiolo in Serralunga). On Sept. 24 and 25, we started and finished the Barbera harvest.
On Sept. 22, we began harvesting the older part of the Sorì San Lorenzo vineyard. Even though Sorì San Lorenzo is a single vineyard of 2.7 hectares, we harvest it in two different phases. The older part consists of 1.5 hectares of 60-year-old vines, all planted in the traditional horizontal fashion (girapoggio as we say in Italian) that ripens earlier. The younger part encompasses 1.2 hectares, which we replanted 30 years ago with selected clones in vertical rows (rintocchino), which needs additional days of sun before becoming fully ripe.
The older part of Sorì San Lorenzo, which typically produces 3,500 kg per hectare, had perfect conditions: 265 sugar, 6.2 acidity and 3.4 pH. The vines are already quite mature and "experienced," and self-regulate their production. This part of the vineyard was planted with the ancient traditional selezione massale (cuttings propagated from the best vines in the vineyards) before the first clonal selections of Nebbiolo. For this reason, the bunches vary a lot from vine to vine, with longer or rounder bunches and smaller berries or more compact ones. We did not do a green harvest, but only a few small interventions on single vines where we decided to cut wings or points on those that were too long and big. However, only a few vines needed it.
The Nebbiolo grapes have good sugar, acidity and pH levels.
Harvesting in the younger part of Sorì San Lorenzo began on Sept. 28, almost one week after the older part. The grapes were excellent here as well: 266 sugar, 5.60 acidity and 3.5 pH. It is always interesting to taste the grapes from the two different sections of this vineyard. The older section has more depth and complexity while the younger section reflects an abundance of fruit and sweetness.
Harvest has begun in all of our other single-vineyard sites as well. On Sept. 29, we began picking Costa Russi, followed by Conteisa in La Morra on October 3. Sorì Tildìn was begun on Oct. 5, as was Sperss.
On Sept. 24, we began picking Darmagi, our Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. Darmagi was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1978 and the vines have matured beautifully. Fortunately, harvest was preceded by two days of rain on Sept. 17 and 18. The rain was a welcome relief from the dry conditions and heat of August, which had reduced the balance between skin and berries. The skins were thick and the berries were overly concentrated. The rains restored equilibrium, thinning the skins and increasing the juice, yielding healthy grapes and well-balanced musts. Ultimately, it is a very promising harvest for Darmagi.
On Sept. 29, we started harvesting the vineyard directly below the Castello di Barbaresco. This vineyard was touched by a bit of hail in June. Fortunately, the hail did not compromise the quality, but it reduced the quantity by 20 percent and slowed the ripening process. Therefore, harvest in this vineyard began 10 days later than normal.
Notable this year is that the usual timing differences between the Barolo and Barbaresco areas have been significant. Generally, there is a difference of 10 days to two weeks between the start of the harvests in Barbaresco and Barolo. Barbaresco begins first while Barolo growers wait a bit longer to have the optimum conditions to start the harvest. This is due to the higher altitude of the Barolo district and the differences in the soils.
Over the past few years, such differences were minimized by the hot summers and the near-drought conditions that increased each year. In 2009, the heavy snow and rains played a key role in restoring the equilibrium and enhancing the differences between the two zones.
Gaja vineyard manager Giorgio Culasso is very attentive to the vines.
We have an amazing team of 56 people in the vineyards, all of whom work with us year-round.
Giorgio Culasso is our vineyard manager-and a perfectionist. I am speechless when it comes to Giorgio. He is simply amazing. He is very quiet, but when he talks about vines his face lights up, and with his usual calm voice, he fills up your mind and soul with true philosophy. When I speak with him, I realize that taking care of the vines is not unlike taking care of a human being.
Antonio and Rino supervise the teams, which include the pickers and tractor drivers.
When I was young, the team was composed only of locals (Geppe and Carla, Franca, Piero, and Federico) or people from other regions of Italy (Rita, Angelo, Beppiono and many more). Now, the origins of our team are very diverse (Agron, Gezim, Lindita, Kiamembaie and Guleie Keik). They are predominantly people who were born outside of Italy, primarily in Eastern Europe. Most of them have been with us for at least 10 to 12 years and are highly skilled. We are proud to have them on our team.
The steep Sperss vineyard looks majestic at this time of year.
All of the grapes in our vineyards are picked by hand. The pickers fill small buckets that are then loaded into crates for transport. One person stays near the crates, checking the quality of what has been picked, and removing any leaves or damaged berries (very rare this year). When a crate is full, a mini-tractor enters the vineyard to carry each crate to the large tractor that transports the crates to the winery. Thanks to the rigorous work in the vineyards throughout the year and the careful quality checks at harvest, the grapes that arrive at the winery are in optimum condition and do not require additional quality control.
The pace is quick and very exhausting, and picking is limited to the hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The sense of order on the steep hills, the white sky and foggy landscape create a majestic setting. It is a fascinating display to see everyone performing his or her role with flawless, coordinated timing. Seeing our team work is like watching a highly rehearsed ballet; the bright colors of their t-shirts and jackets move up and down the rows in perfect harmony.
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