Unlike other parts of Italy and northern Europe, the 2016 growing season in Piedmont was mostly dry and warm, with enough rain at the right times and ideal conditions for the region’s most important grape, Nebbiolo. Some vintners are comparing it to 2004, others to 2001, both excellent vintages.
Late spring brought cooler-than-usual temperatures, especially at night. This delayed the vegetative cycle and the flowering was two weeks later, resulting in a later-than-average harvest.
Overall, conditions were dry, but there was no drought pressure like in 2007 or 2003, and peak temperatures during the summer months did not spike as they did in 2015 or 2005, according to Giovanni Pasquero Elia, proprietor of Paitin in Neive. “All the grape [varieties] seem more consistent in quality than 2015, with less alcohol and better acidity,” he noted. “It reminds me of 1982, my first harvest.”
Along with the high quality, the quantity was average to slightly higher. Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti reported about 10 percent higher yields than normal, despite a violent storm on July 26 that unleashed strong winds and hail. Because of the storm, some producers harvested slightly less fruit than average, by as much as 10 percent.
The hail touched a wide area, affecting the lower parts of Castiglione Falletto, Bussia in Monforte, parts of Cannubi, Brunate and Rocche dell’Annunziata in Barolo and La Morra, before passing through Verduno. There was also extensive damage in parts of Monferrato, particularly Nizza. However, Ratti said that in his Costigliole vineyards a few miles away it didn’t even rain.
The weather leading up to the harvest was ideal, with sun and the good temperature swings between day and night that are so important for the development of Nebbiolo’s aromas. Whites were picked beginning Sept. 5, with the reds following, beginning with Dolcetto and Barbera. Picking of Nebbiolo began during the last week of September and continued through the third week of October.
“Nebbiolo arrived at a good level of sugar quite soon, but the phenolic maturation wasn't there yet, the skins very strong and the taste of the berries still green, so we waited for another two weeks before their harvest,” said Claudia Cigliuti, who makes the wines at her family’s winery in Barbaresco. “We picked the Nebbiolos from the 3rd to the 8th of October.”
Now that fermentations are complete, winemakers report that the wines are aromatic, well-balanced and the Nebbiolo in particular appears well-structured for aging.