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Marchesi de' Frescobaldi

Tuscany, Italy

Posted: October 22, 2001


Harvest Main | Harvest Diaries | News | Glossary

  • Lamberto Frescobaldi's Harvest Diary
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    Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, one of Tuscany's leaders, has been producing wine for around 700 years -- more than 30 generations for the family-owned company. Today, Frescobaldi owns about 2,500 acres of vines, which are spread out over eight estates in various appellations in Tuscany and northeast Italy. The company's total annual production is more than 580,000 cases.

    Frescobaldi's estates include Castello di Nipozzano and Poggio a Remole, both in Chianti Ruffina; Castiglioni and Valiano, both in Chianti Colli Fiorentini; Castello di Pomino in Pomino, Castelgiocondo in Montalcino; Corte in the Mugello; and Santa Maria in Morellino di Scansano.

    The company is also involved in joint ventures in Italy. In 1995, Frescobaldi embarked on a project with California's Robert Mondavi Corp., producing the Luce and Lucente lines of wines, from their Luce property in Montalcino and existing Frescobaldi estates. In 2000, the partners also planted a new property, La Capitana in Morellino di Scansano, which will be used for Lucente.

    In 2000, Frescobaldi bought a 70 percent stake in the Conte Attems estate in northeast Italy's Collio appellation, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, where the company will be producing white wines to complement its extensive range of reds.

    Frescobaldi is currently run by president Vittorio Frescobaldi, along with his brothers Leonardo and Ferdinando. The company's reins are gradually being handed over to the new generation. Among them is Vittorio's son, Lamberto Frescobaldi, who graduated from the University of California, Davis, and is now the company's director of viticulture and winemaking.

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    Lamberto Frescobaldi's Harvest Diary

    Monday, Sept. 3, 12:30 p.m.

    It's a later harvest in Tuscany this year compared to the past two years, says director of viticulture and winemaking Lamberto Frescobaldi. We have already harvested the Chardonnay and part of the Pinot Nero [Pinot Noir], which both look exceedingly good.

    Frescobaldi began the harvest on Aug. 27 with 15 acres of Chardonnay at its Remole estate, in Chianti Rufina, about 9 miles east of Florence, and then began picking Pinot Nero there on Aug. 31. Though the quality of the grapes looks good, Frescobaldi says, the size of the estate's crop was lower than normal due to a severe freeze early in the growing season, on Easter night, when temperatures fell to minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

    This morning, we began on the Pinot Nero at Nipozzano. So far, we've harvested about 8 acres of Pinot Nero out of our total of 51 acres, says Frescobaldi.

    Aside from the low yields, I'm satisfied with how the harvest is proceeding. The grapes are looking healthy, says Frescobaldi. This is mainly due to the rains we had in July, which saturated the ground. This water reserve made all the difference during August, which was ferociously hot. Compared to last year's drought, which lasted most of July and August, this year, the climatic situation is much more favorable.

    The winery installed drip irrigation in most of its vineyards a few years ago. It makes a great difference in quality, especially with early varieties. Right now we've started irrigating our Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Shiraz doesn't need to be irrigated because the skin is thicker and tougher, and it can do with being more concentrated, explains Frescobaldi.

    The recent rains we had over the weekend were a godsend. They cleaned the dust and cobwebs from the vines, and a little more rain is just what's needed for the later-ripening varieties, such as Sangiovese. A later harvest also allows the polyphenols to mature and become more complex, says Frescobaldi, jokingly adding, Right now we're all busy doing a rain dance for more rain.

    This morning, Frescobaldi began harvesting some young Sangiovese grapes at its Santa Maria estate, in Morellino di Scansano, near the Tuscan coast. When one thinks of a good harvest, here in Tuscany one usually refers to Sangiovese, the indigenous variety, which is our 'identity,' he says. Tomorrow morning, they'll start harvesting the Merlot at Castelgiocondo in Montalcino.

    Last year, the Frescobaldi winery formed a joint venture with the Attems estate in northeastern Italy's Collio appellation, to make white wines. That harvest started on Aug. 30 with Sauvignon Blanc, says Frescobaldi. It then rained and so we had to interrupt until this morning. On Thursday, we'll probably start on the Pinot Grigio.

    Rain is one of the obstacles that winemakers expect during harvest. And then there's the unexpected. On the amusing side, says Frescobaldi, this harvest we discovered that instead of planting the red variety Colorino [at Remole], we had instead planted some Gamay, which was sold to us by the nursery as Colorino. The Colorino grape is one of the permitted varieties in the Chianti appellation; it is used in small amounts in the blend to add color and tannins to firm up the structure of Sangiovese.

    Fortunately it wasn't a big area, not even a couple of acres, so it didn't really matter. However, being the first year of production, Nicolò [D'Aflitto, Frescobaldi's enologist] and I couldn't understand why the wasps were eating the grapes, which had ripened before their supposed time. In the end we realized that the nursery had sold us the wrong variety!

    Thursday, Sept. 13

    We had quite a lot of rain at the end of last week, says Lamberto Frescobaldi. It was most welcome, as some of the vines were beginning to show signs of stress. The rain revived and cleaned the vines, and now the sun is shining again.

    He went on to say that the weather conditions couldn't be better, with warm, sunny days and cool nights.

    We have now harvested the Pinot Grigio at Pomino. I was literally overcome by joy at the excellent quality of the grapes, says Frescobaldi. The Pinot Noir we picked at Pomino last week is now fermenting in wooden vats. The color of the juice is outstanding.

    We have also started harvesting the Merlot at our Castelgiocondo estate in Montalcino. The yields are low, about two to three bunches per plant, and the quality looks exceptional, adds Frescobaldi. If the wine is as good as the quality of the grapes, it will be an outstanding vintage!

    Tuesday, Sept. 18

    Lamberto Frescobaldi says the harvest is proceeding well in Tuscany, as well as in northeastern Italy. At the Attems estate, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia's Collio DOC, the winery has finished picking Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.

    The grapes are looking good, says Frescobaldi. The drop in temperature over the last 10 days has enabled the aromas to remain prominent. Frescobaldi has also finished picking a small amount of indigenous Malvasia Istriana, a white aromatic grape variety that they blend into the Collio Bianco wines. The Malvasia Istriana vines were planted by Douglas Attems back in 1945 and 1952, says Frescobaldi. You can't imagine what a joy it is to harvest grapes that come from a vine that is 56 years old! The next step at Attems will be picking the Ribolla Gialla, another indigenous variety.

    In Tuscany, as in the rest of Italy, the harvest is benefiting from cool nights and sunny days. At Pomino, we're fairly relaxed about how things are proceeding, says Frescobaldi. The night temperatures average about 6 degrees Celsius [43 degrees Fahrenheit], maintaining the grapes in good condition and allowing them to mature during the day. The Pinot Noir is fermenting in new open-top oak vats, which are giving good results.

    At the Nipozzano estate, in the Chianti Ruffina appellation, Frescobaldi has started harvesting the Merlot grapes, which are showing an average potential alcohol level of 14.3 percent. The color is as intense as a moonless night! exclaims Frescobaldi.

    Merlot is also the focus right now in Chianti Colli Fiorentini, at the Castiglioni property. We're looking at making a new product here, he explains. This involves harvesting three times over, which involves three separate selections. We've been doing this since 1999 with excellent results.

    In Montalcino, at the Castelgiocondo estate, the Merlot harvest is continuing, but the size of the crop was greatly reduced by spring hail. It's even less than we predicted -- about 20 quintals per hectare [0.9 tons per acre], he says. On the other hand, the quality looks very interesting.

    Going further south, at our Morellino estate of Santa Maria, we are still harvesting the young Sangiovese; we pick during the morning only, so that the grapes reach the winery at a low temperature.

    Despite all the activity, Frescobaldi says, The bulk of the harvest is yet to begin.

    Wednesday, Sept. 26, 3 p.m.

    Frescobaldi is pleased with the quality of the harvest so far, but he says yields are down dramatically from average at a few of their estates: Castiglioni by 30 percent, Nipozzano by 15 percent and Montalcino by at least 20 percent. However, he notes, By some miracle, Santa Maria has been spared; yields here are the same as usual. Most of the reduction in the size of the crop can be attributed to this year's spring frost, which hit vineyards around Eastertime.

    As for the current weather, Frescobaldi says, We've had about four or five days of rain during the last week, mainly in and around the Florence area and estates, as well as at the Montalcino estate. However, we've had not even a drop of rain at our Morellino di Scansano estate, Santa Maria.

    The harvest is proceeding well at Santa Maria, he reports. Near the end of this week we expect to finish harvesting the Sangiovese grapes. Next week we'll start on the Cabernet Sauvingnon.

    The Nipozzano estate, in Chianti Rufina, experienced a substantial rainfall last week, and the harvest had to be interrupted for a few days. With the return of the sun and warmth, they have set off again harvesting the Cabernet Franc. Even though we had a lot of rain, there are no signs of botrytis, assures Frescobaldi. At the beginning of September, we stripped the vines of excess leaves so that the grapes could benefit from the sun and air. Today, the grapes we harvested were dry and in good condition. I'm not worried about the rain.

    The harvest at Nipozzano will continue with Merlot, in anticipation of what Frescobaldi calls the real harvest -- referring to Sangiovese, which is Tuscany's main variety.

    Today, we started picking some Sangiovese at Montalcino, he says. These 10-year-old vines produce the grapes which go into our Rosso di Montalcino. On Friday, he is thinking of harvesting the Merlot, which goes into the Lamaione label and comes from older vines that date back to 1976.

    At Pomino, where they have finished with the Pinot Noir, harvest resumed today, after the rain subsided, with the picking of Pinot Bianco. I'm really proud of this varietal; it has more complex aromas than most Chardonnays, says Frescobaldi. In the following days, we will proceed by harvesting varietals such as Chardonnay and Riesling that grow above 600 meters. These will be followed by Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Sangiovese.

    Our new project at Castiglioni is also proceeding well. This is a blend of 80 percent Merlot and 20 percent Sangiovese grapes, which we have been carefully selecting since 1999 from vines planted in 1993, says Frescobaldi. The wine is fermented in stainless-steel vats and then put straight into new barriques where it is left for about 14 months before bottling. This spring, we will be releasing 7,000 bottles [a little more than 580 cases] of this new product; however, we have yet to decide on the label.

    He adds, We didn't want to launch it before testing out the quality over a three-year span. It has performed to expectations so we are going ahead with launching the 1999 vintage.

    Today, Frescobaldi visited the Attems estate in the Friuli region, where it was raining. We have now finished harvesting the Ribolla Gialla. Today, I tasted some of the Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, which are coming to the end of their fermentation. Yesterday morning, the Merlot was harvested, and the quality is good -- especially for a red grape in Friuli. That leaves us with the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère to harvest, he concludes.

    Monday, Oct. 1, 6 p.m.

    The weather in Italy continues to fluctuate between warm, bright, sunny spells and grey, rainy autumn days. Lamberto Frescobaldi has had to interrupt the harvest for days at a time over the past week. But he says they are still on time, noting that last year and the year before were particularly early harvests.

    An average year's harvest finishes around October 25, says Frescobaldi. In fact, I prefer this year's harvest to last year's. Assuring that the rains are not a problem, he explains, Last year, the heat was too intense, and we badly needed rain. If it's too hot and dry, it's difficult to make a good wine. It means that the polyphenolic complexity is missing. With the right quantity of water, the vine continues to vegetate, and the grapes can really mature.

    At Frescobaldi's Santa Maria estate, workers finished picking the young Sangiovese grapes last Friday, and by this Friday, they will have finish picking the remaining Cabernet Sauvignon. And that will be it for Santa Maria, exclaims Frescobaldi. Then we'll open a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate!

    The harvest is currently at a standstill at Castelgiocondo, as rain continues to fall in Montalcino. I'm still waiting to pick our top Sangiovese grapes, which go into the Brunello Montesodi label, says Frescobaldi. It's still too early to say when we'll go ahead with that. Last Friday and Saturday, we handpicked selected grapes from our best vines. We usually do two manual selections, and the third is done by machine. Machine-picking is very fast. You can pick in a day what 50 pickers can manually pick in one day. This has also enabled us to cut down on labor during the past few years.

    Over the last 10 years, Frescobaldi has increased its production in Tuscany with the addition of more than 1,280 acres of new vines. That's about an average of 128 acres a year, he says. In high season, when we're really busy, we make out about 500 pay packets a month, which falls to a low of about 220 in low season.

    Frescobaldi employs people with a wide selection of nationalities, the main core of workers being Italian. We have Senegalese, North African and Macedonian workers. Most are employed all year round, taking off to go home between January and May. They say it's too cold for them here during our winter, explains Frescobaldi. Our busiest time in the vineyards is between the beginning of May and end of July.

    Summing up harvest activity at some of the other estates, Frescobaldi says that at Remole, in Chianti Rufina, they have finished picking the Sangiovese and will now wait about 10 days before starting on the Cabernet Sauvignon. At Pomino, they are waiting for the grapes to dry before continuing to pick the Chardonnay. And at Attems, in Friuli, he reports that the rains were not too persistent so they were able to harvest some Merlot this morning.

    So far this year, Frescobaldi says he is very impressed with his Cabernet Franc, which is used in its Mormoreto label -- a blend of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Sangiovese. The color is very intense and the aromas ripe and fruity, he says.

    In the whites, I am very enthusiastic about the Chardonnay at Pomino, which is planted at [an altitude of] more than 500 meters. It's giving excellent results, he adds.

    In the wineries, The fermentation is proceeding well, says Frescobaldi. It's a harvest with small quantities, therefore we have been able to vinify everything in small vats and barriques. The alcohol levels are excellent, between 13.5 percent and 14.5 percent, which is very good for aging wine.

    Friday, Oct. 5, 8:30 p.m.

    Today we finished the harvest at our Attems estate in Friuli, reports Lamberto Frescobaldi. The last varieties to be harvested were a local variety, Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon.

    I am pleased with the Merlot, but I feel I still need to tune myself to Friulian wines and terroir, he continues. The local varieties grown in Friuli differ in character from Tuscan varieties. And the same varieties, such as Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, modify their character according to the different terroir. In Tuscany, the climate is milder and sunnier, so ripening times are ahead of Friuli. Here, the aromas are almost green aromas; that is characteristic of the varietals of the area.

    All the white varieties -- such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Malvasia Istriana and some Ribolla Gialla -- are safely fermenting in barriques. Their aromas are so intense in the cellar, they are almost inebriating, Frescobaldi exclaims.

    In Tuscany, we harvested on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It's been very intense, and we've been harvesting from dawn to dusk, he says.

    At Pomino, we started harvesting the vines planted at 600 meters [nearly 2,000 feet]. The quality is very good, and the sugar and pH levels are well-balanced. They are now fermenting in barriques. We are left with the Benefazio vineyard, which gives its name to one of our wines. Here, we still have some Chardonnay and a bit of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc to harvest. We're thinking of harvesting it next week. It depends how hard we want to push ourselves!

    The Sangiovese at Pomino still remains to be harvested. For the moment, it is still looking healthy, but I'm worried about the warm weather. The temperatures are too high, he explains.

    At Nipozzano, in Chianti Rufina, Frescobaldi has finished harvesting the Merlot. The last batch we picked is potentially above 14.5 percent alcohol, remarks Frescobaldi. Waxing poetic for a moment, he comments, Its color is as dark as a moonless night, and it's as full and as round as the earth.

    Also at Nipozzano, Frescobaldi has started harvesting Sangiovese grapes. As I expected the quantity is scarce, about 40 percent below average, but the quality is excellent. However, no matter how good the quality is, I am not happy about the low yields, he says. We are ahead of time regarding its ripening, and only in a few cases are we bleeding. (Bleeding, called saignée in France, is the practice of removing a portion of the fermenting grape juice from a vat, leaving a higher proportion of grape skins to juice, which concentrates the remaining wine.)

    In Montalcino, he continues, The Sangiovese at Castelgiocondo is ready, and we've been harvesting at full power. Here too, quantities are much lower than in previous years -- again down 40 percent. From past experience, we are bleeding the grapes that are destined for aging, such as those used in the Brunello wines, explains Frescobaldi.

    Near Castelgiocondo at Luce, the Mondavi-Frescobaldi joint-venture estate, Frescobaldi spent all of Wednesday and Thursday harvesting the Sangiovese. Being at a high altitude of 450 meters [nearly 1,500 feet] and facing south, we don't feel pressured to hurry on. We expect to harvest the bulk of it around the middle of next week, he predicts.

    Friday, Oct. 12, 8 p.m.

    Frescobaldi still has about 165 tons of grapes to harvest. These include Chardonnay and Sangiovese at the Pomino estate, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese at Nipozzano, Sangiovese at Castiglioni, and Sangiovese at the Luce property in Montalcino.

    I expect to finish harvesting at the end of next week, says Lamberto Frescobaldi. In general, I think it is a better harvest than 2000, but it's still early to make any definite judgment.

    Reflecting on his prediction for this year's vintage, Frescobaldi feels confident. Most Tuscan vintners are very pleased with the outcome of this year's harvest, he notes. In the areas such as Montepulciano, Chianti Classico and Bolgheri, where we don't have property, I hear that the vintage is a good one.

    Sunday, Oct. 21, noon

    Frescobaldi finished harvesting on Saturday, Oct. 20. "It's still early to say, but I'm very pleased with the results, even if the yields are down as far as 40 percent at our Montalcino estate," says Lamberto Frescobaldi.

    "Last week, we finished harvesting the last of the Sangiovese grapes at Pomino and Nipozzano. The Sangiovese from Pomino is used for the Sangiovese, Merlot and Pinot Noir blend, which is the red DOC wine produced at Pomino," explains Frescobaldi. "Because of the altitude, exposition and blend, it's quite unique, differing from the wines produced at our other estates."

    At Nipozzano, Frescobaldi finished harvesting the Sangiovese grapes, which go into the Montesodi label. "This is one of our most important wines; it is a single-varietal wine, 100 percent Sangiovese," he says. "In order to reach the desired quality, we have to leave the grapes on the plant until they are slightly raisined. We were fortunate that over the last two weeks we had sunny, dry weather -- ideal for ripening."

    At the company's other estates, Frescobaldi says the wines are fermenting, and the first run-offs show excellent results. According to Frescobaldi, in a month's time, they will start vinifying the white grapes for vin santo, which are currently hanging in a loft to dry at the Pomino.

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