Harvest. For winemakers, no other word is loaded with so much potential and anticipation. After a long growing season of endless work in the vineyards, it’s finally time to see what nature delivered. On the West Coast, most vintners are reporting 2013 as a great year, a twin to the promising 2012. In many parts of Europe, however, 2013 marked another vintage of challenging conditions and low yields.
In the fourth of five 2013 vintage reports, growers across Italy describe a tricky harvest. A cool, wet spring delayed the growing season and lowered yields. A cool summer ripened the grapes slowly, but in areas where the rain stayed away through autumn, growers could pick ripe, balanced fruit, even though some suffered a wet October. While it’s still to early to draw conclusions about final quality in the bottle, here's a sneak peek of what may lie ahead.
• The Northeast
• Southern & Central Italy
The good news: Rain. Well-timed showers helped the development of some vines and averted hydric stress during particularly warm periods.
The bad news: Again, rain. In some areas, rainy conditions and cooler temperatures early in the growing season resulted in uneven flowering. In other areas, rain in fall and during harvest created the threat of mildew, making the timing for picking and the sorting of grapes crucial.
Picking began: Depending on the area, harvest typically began the week of Sept. 9 or Sept. 16.
Promising Areas: Conditions in Alto Adige were more in line with historical norms, distinguishing this vintage from a recent spate of warm harvests. It should be a classic vintage for the region, with crisp, acidic structures and aromatic flavor profiles.
Challenging Areas: The late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon grape had difficulty reaching full maturity as rain and cooler temperatures set in toward the end of harvest.
Analysis: The 2013 growing season was a challenging one for winemakers in Italy’s northeastern regions of Friuli–Venezia-Giulia, Trentino, Alto Adige and Veneto, but not all hope is lost. “It was a long and difficult season for those who want to make very high-quality wines, and easier for those who are looking to make good but straightforward wines,” said Emilio Del Medico, winemaker at Friuli’s Bastianich winery.
Depending on the region, conditions ranged from cool and rainy to hot and dry. When factoring in threats such as hailstorms and mildew, it became clear that a deft hand and experience was needed to successfully navigate the growing season. For some regions, it may be best to stick with top producers in 2013. Still, in areas such as Alto Adige, the challenges may have imparted strong personalities to the wines. Karoline Walch, export manager for her family’s Elena Walch winery, said, “It seems our wines, and especially the whites, show more character this year and are a true reflection of the region.”
The good news: 2013 looks like an exceptional harvest for the late-ripening Nebbiolo grape.
The bad news: Mildew could be a problem if not controlled. Despite a green harvest by quality growers, September rain swelled the berries.
Picking started: Early September for Moscato and white varieties; Sept. 25 for Dolcetto; Oct. 7 for Barbera; Oct. 7–25 for Nebbiolo.
Promising grapes: Nebbiolo in Barbaresco and Barolo.
Challenging grapes: Barbera, a grape that generally likes heat, was very high in acidity in early September.
Analysis: Piedmont’s spring was wet, leading to pressure from fungal diseases, but dry, cool weather in August set the tone for September, which saw sunny and dry days matched with unusually cold nights. The long, slow ripening should result in complex wines, particularly from Nebbiolo, which is the last grape to be picked.
Barbara Sandrone, whose father, Luciano, celebrated his 50th harvest this year, said, “There is more than a tinge of the 1960s or ’70s, as this vintage could be defined not only for the timing, which is closer to the traditional [harvests], but also for the potential features of the wines. [There is] less concentration and lower alcoholic content, but more fruit, with richer aromas.”
Harvesting Ruche grapes in Monferrato in Piedmont.
The good news: Despite climatic difficulties during the spring and growing season in many of southern Italy’s winegrowing regions, the weather just before and during harvest was more even and favorable, allowing several grape varieties to reach full physiological maturity in time for harvest.
The bad news: Cool temperatures, rain and some cases of heavy wind in the spring had growers in several parts of Italy fearing that 2013 would be a wash. Much of the summer growing season through to the harvest was about countering the effects of the spring’s unfavorable conditions.
Picking started: Variable by location and grape variety. Picking began far to the south, in Calabria, as early as Aug. 8 for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but most regions began in mid-September. Harvest for some red grape varieties, such Aglianico in Campania, continued through early November.
Promising grapes: Red grape varieties in different regions may have fared the best in 2013; many red grape varieties are thicker-skinned and benefit from some extra hang time on the vine. Favorable conditions at harvest afforded these varieties the opportunity to reach full maturity.
Challenging grapes: The cooler conditions early in the growing season contributed to white grape varieties with slightly higher-than-normal acid levels. In some cases, this will be a benefit; in others, the resulting wines may seem a bit lean.
Analysis: It may only be about 500 miles from the vineyards of Marche, on Italy’s central-eastern seaboard, to those of Calabria, in the toe of the boot, but local geography and other factors resulted in very different conditions throughout the wine regions of central and southern Italy.
In general, rain was the biggest factor for success in 2013. Poor, rainy conditions in the spring set up a challenging growing season and harvest. Careful attention to the vineyards and selection at harvest was necessary for success. But in some of Italy’s more southerly regions, the lack of rain during the summer months also proved a concern. Production volumes may be down for certain bottlings because of lower overall yields, particularly from younger vines that suffered under the droughtlike conditions.
Despite the ups and downs of the growing season, most producers seem quietly optimistic. “In June, I was really scared—and in September too,” said Sabatino Di Properzio, owner and winemaker at the Abruzzi region’s La Valentina estate. “But fortunately, autumn was wonderful, allowing for a great harvest—if somewhat delayed.”
Freshly picked bunches head into the winery for destemming and crushing.
The good news: 2013 looks like a very good to excellent harvest for most grape varieties.
The bad news: Spring rains encouraged mildew and affected flowering in some areas, resulting in reduced yields.
Picking started: Early to late September for Vermentino and white varieties; mid-September for Merlot; end of September to mid-October for Sangiovese; Oct. 7 for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Promising grapes: Sangiovese
Challenging Regions: Montepulciano, where the clay soils delayed ripening.
Analysis: Tuscany’s wet spring led to pressure from fungal diseases, particularly during flowering. Cool weather in August further slowed the already-delayed growth of the vines. But long, slow ripening kept acidity levels fresh and promoted tannin maturation without excessive sugar levels.
The wines generally show lower-than-average alcohol levels, with crop sizes varying significantly depending on the region—some saw above-average gains, while others reported reductions of up to 30 percent. “Thanks to good [vineyard] management, the result was outstanding,” said Giovanni Folonari, proprietor of Tenute Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari. “All the grapes were in perfect shape and great balance. Although it’s still early for a precise judgment, this year looks like one of the best [years] since 2001.”
Vines await pickers in Valpolicella near Verona.