The harvest is underway in Italy, but the fate of the 2005 vintage still hangs in the balance. The crop is at the mercy of the wet, autumnal weather that has settled over much of the peninsula since the middle of August, accompanied recently by some punishing downpours and hailstorms, especially in the northern wine regions.
These conditions come at the end of a summer in which periods of hot, sunny weather were frequently interrupted by rain and cooler temperatures. Yet earlier in the summer, producers were optimistic about the quality of the vintage, provided that the end of the growing season was accompanied by warm, settled weather.
So far, vintners have not been granted their wish, though many wineries were able to bring in their white varieties and early-ripening reds, such as Merlot and Dolcetto, before the worst of the weather arrived.
"We picked just in time," said Tuscan producer Luca Sanjust, who makes one of Italy's best Merlots, the super Tuscan Galatrona. "There was enough heat during August to allow the grapes to ripen fully and evenly."
Over on the Tuscan coast at Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, most of the Merlot that goes into the estate's super Tuscan blend, Ornellaia, has also been picked. But the grapes for its top pure Merlot, Masseto, are still on the vine, along with the Cabernet crop. "The grapes are looking very good just now," said general manager Leonardo Raspini. "So we're prepared to take a risk and wait for the optimal time for the harvest."
For late-ripening varieties, such as Sangiovese in Tuscany and Nebbiolo in Piedmont, the harvest is still more than two weeks away. The biggest worry is that mold, caused by continuing wet conditions, may spoil the crop. "We can take a few more days of rain before harvest time," said Roberto Voerzio, one of Piedmont's top Barolo producers. "But any more than that and the game may be up. The mists are already rising up from the valley floor."
Reports of hail damage in various regions have been frequent, but the effects have largely been limited, according to producers contacted in many areas. However, a number of vineyards in Piedmont were hit, particularly around the town of Monforte d'Alba, one of the top Barolo-producing zones. In the nearby town of Dogliani, home to some of the region's best Dolcetto vineyards, around 30 percent of the total vineyard area was hit by hail and some of those sites were devastated.
"We lost 80 percent of our crop in one vineyard," said Matteo Sardagna of Dolcetto producer Luigi Einaudi, "but the rest of our Dolcetto was untouched, and we are expecting high quality this year."
In other wine-producing areas in Italy, the weather has taken its toll in varying degrees. "In general, it's been bad weather all round," said enologist Luca d'Attoma, who consults for wineries in Veneto and Friuli, as well as other parts of Italy. "Though some regions, such as Sicily, may have fared a little better, the situation in many areas is now becoming critical, with mold on the advance, affecting especially vineyards located in flat areas." According to d'Attoma, hillside vineyards are better ventilated and should be more resistant to the development of mold.
"The vineyards need to dry out now," d'Attoma concluded, "and that means no more rain and dry winds. If we're lucky enough to get both, we should be able to make something good out of this vintage."