The harvest at Ca'Marcanda, in the Bolgheri area of Tuscany, occurred between Sept. 7 and Oct. 6, starting with our experimental white varieties and finishing with Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In addition to our established vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot and Sangiovese, we planted a hectare of white grapes in 2006 that is still in the experimental stages of production. It is too early to determine whether our future white wine will be a blend or even what style it will be, but so far we have been amazed by the quality of grapes that such young vines have produced! We are experimenting with aging techniques by transferring a portion of each variety to new French oak barrels and keeping the remainder of the wine in stainless-steel tanks.
Cabernet Sauvignon from Ca' Marcanda
I like the strong experimental nature of Ca'Marcanda. Since the winery is quite young, with the first vines planted in 1996, we give total freedom to all sorts of experiments, such as planting white grapes, green harvest and trimming, and different methods of vine training (such as Guyot and Cordone Speronato). Each parcel that has been treated differently is kept separate for micro-fermentation and aging. Our experimental wines currently are sold in bulk.
The harvest of the red varieties at Ca'Marcanda occurred in two phases. The first was from Sept. 10-18, when we picked all the Merlot and the Syrah. The weather was very warm, with average temperatures of 28º C (82º F), reaching as high as 32º C (89.6 º F) in the afternoons.
Typically, during the harvest, afternoons are devoted to sfogliamento of the vines stripping away the leaves, which enhances the exposure and ensures grape ripening for the next day's harvest). But this year, in order to protect the berries from getting burned, we did not touch the leaves from September onward. It was a very wise decision, because the grapes remained protected from the heat of the sun.
During the first phase, harvesting was limited to the hours of 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. We were able to start early due to the lack of morning dew and low humidity at night. On Sept. 18, we finished picking the last of the Syrah but still had all of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese left to harvest.
The Cabernet Franc harvest was delayed by rain.
However, it started to rain in Bolgheri and continued for five days, dropping a total of 200 mm (8 inches). The rain worried us and, after the fifth day, we thought we faced real trouble. Yet on the sixth day, as if by plan, the rains stopped, good weather resumed and providential northern winds dried the grapes off, preventing mold and preserving the quality of the crop.
The rain and winds turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Actually, rain was badly needed after the dry conditions of the summer. The vines were slightly stressed from lack of water, and when vines stress, the berries develop thick skins and can become overly concentrated. We had already performed a drastic green harvest to decrease the stress the plants were under from the summer heat. Thanks to the rains, the berries' thick skins became somewhat thinner and equilibrium was restored in the juice. This permitted a balanced release of polyphenols and tannins during fermentation.
Ca' Marcanda's soils are divided between the dark terre brune (foreground) and lighter terre bianchi (background).
After the rain and an additional day spent waiting for the grapes to dry, we started the second phase of picking. Cooler temperatures during both the days and nights made it possible for us to harvest from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mauro Poli, who has managed the vineyards since 1996, told me he thinks we will have about a 10 percent reduction in production this year, due to the warm summer and the green harvest.
One of the great privileges we have during harvest is to taste the grapes and compare them before they become wine. It is striking to experience how profoundly the taste can change depending on the soil in which the grapes were grown. At Ca' Marcanda, there are two distinct soil types, terre bianche (white soils), composed mainly of clay and limestone, and terre brune (dark soils), which contain less limestone. The grapes from the darker soil taste fruitier, sweeter and more delicate, with softer tannins. Grapes grown in the lighter soil have intense flavor, bigger tannins and a notable structure that differentiates those for the Camarcanda (terre bianche) from those for the Promis (terre brune) bottling.
Pickers bringing in the Cabernet Sauvignon from the terre bianche.
We have a group of 50 pickers at Ca' Marcanda, all of whom are Tuscan, with most coming from Castagneto Carducci (the village in which Ca' Marcanda is located) and the surrounding towns. The work is done in teams of 10. The vast majority of pickers are women. In fact, we refer to the vineyard teams as "the girls." These women are fantastic-their care in managing the vines is unbeatable and they all are focused and responsible. But they know how to have fun as well. It has become a tradition for "the girls" to crown Mr. Harvest each year. Of the six male pickers, Pierone was selected as Mr. Harvest 2009. At 60, Pierone is the oldest picker, yet he beat his younger co-workers for this "honor."
Delia Viader — Deer Park, CA USA — October 19, 2009 8:54pm ET
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