For the men and women who make wine, perhaps no word is more packed with nervous anticipation than "harvest." After months of spending time, sweat and money in their vineyards, it's the moment to see what nature delivered. For California, 2014 brought another year of record-breaking drought. For America's East Coast, winter brought a deep freeze. For much of Western Europe, 2014 was unpredictable, with sun, clouds and plenty of hail in some unfortunate spots.
In the fourth of five 2014 vintage reports, Italian winemakers report a challenging but potentially good year. From Piedmont to Puglia, summer was wet, cool and cloudy, requiring countless hours in the vineyards. In some areas, September sun ripened grapes fully. In others, no amount of work could save the season.
As for final quality in the bottle, it's too early to know, but here's a sneak peek.
• The Northeast
• Southern & Central Italy
The good news: Fine weather in September helped diligent producers harvest a smaller, but healthy crop.
The bad news: Production quantities will be lower in 2014 thanks to a cloudy, wet summer.
Promising areas: Prosecco—the wine’s Glera grapes are typically harvested early and at higher levels of acidity, which 2014’s conditions supported.
Challenging areas: 2014 was challenging for everyone, but particularly for the reds, especially Veneto’s Amarone.
Analysis: Like much of Italy, northeastern wines from 2014 were shaped by ongoing rain during the summer months. To counter the wet conditions, quality-oriented producers needed to do extensive work in the vineyards to battle disease and encourage ripening despite few sunny days.
“We have to go back 18 years before we find another summer as cold and rainy,” said Alvaro Pecorari, owner of Lis Neris in Friuli. Percorari said they used leaf thinning and pruning techniques to manage vine canopies. Producers who attended to their vineyards carefully in summer months were rewarded by September’s fair weather, including sunny days that helped the grapes reach greater ripeness levels.
But even hard work could not completely counter summer’s poor weather, and growers had to carefully select in the vineyards to avoid grapes affected by peronospora, a type of mold, in Trentino-Alto Adige and various vine diseases in the Veneto region. All the troubles mean that yields are low, anywhere from 5 to 15 percent down on average, and sometimes much more.
Quality-oriented producers from the northeast will be able to offer balanced wines for drinking in the short-term. “It’s a vintage of elegance rather than concentration,” said Andrea Felluga of his family’s Livio Felluga estate in Friuli. “The aromatic profile is absolutely intriguing and the mouthfeel is extremely balanced.”
The region’s cellar-worthy reds, notably Veneto’s Amarone, will probably suffer more, as they are typically known for their concentration and abundant flavor. For this reason, Andrea Lonardi, chief technical director of Bertani, reported in late August that the estate made the decision to forgo Amarone production in 2014 altogether. Mara Castellani, however, of her family’s Michele Castellani winery, explained that despite the challenges, they are pleased with their Amarone prospects. “We were so worried during the summer," she said. "But now the grapes are drying and so far they look perfect, so we trust we will obtain a good-quality Amarone wine.”
Ripe Sangiovese is ready to be picked at Le Casalte in Montepulciano.
The good news: Quality is better than expected, particularly for the late-ripening Nebbiolo.
The bad news: The year was difficult for Dolcetto, thanks to hail, and white wine grapes, especially Moscato. Lower-than-average yields.
Picking started:: Sept. 1 (Moscato); Sept. 15 (Arneis); Sept. 16 (Dolcetto); Sept. 21 (Barbera); and Oct. 2 (Nebbiolo)
Promising grapes: Nebbiolo, especially in Barbaresco, where there was no hail. Barbera in Asti, which was also spared from hail and witnessed warmer summer temperatures and less rain.
Challenging grapes: Dolcetto, Moscato, and grapes grown in hail-struck parts of Barolo
Analysis: After a mild winter and early spring, Piedmont's July was marked by violent storms with high rainfall and hail in some areas of Barolo that mostly affected Dolcetto grapes. The wet, combined with warm temperatures, increased pressure from fungal diseases.
The weather improved, delivering sunshine and dry conditions that favored the late-ripening varieties like Barbera and Nebbiolo and the favored locations of the best crus. One standout was Barbera d’Asti. “Asti is fantastic because there we had much higher temperatures in the summer, no hail and half the rain of the Alba region,” explained Luca Currado, owner and winemaker at Vietti, who makes several Barberas from both regions. “Asti is really good with correct alcohol and so far brilliant fruit with great structure,” he added.
“Overall the 2014 vintage showed very well the quality of top single vineyards—warmer sites with good soil drainage, the importance of correct work of spraying and [leaf pulling and green harvest] and how crucial the last part of the season is to ripen the grapes,” said Pietro Ratti, owner of Renato Ratti in Barolo’s La Morra commune.
Pickers head out to the vines at Rapitalà in Sicily.
Southern & Central Italy: Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Marche, Molise, Puglia, Sardinia, Sicily, Umbria
The good news: A difficult harvest everywhere but Sicily, but producers seem generally optimistic about the results.
The bad news: Quantities will be below average, sometimes significantly depending on the region.
Promising regions: Sicily.
Challenging regions: Disease in the vineyards caused difficulties in several regions, including Emilia-Romagna, Lazio and Umbria.
Analysis: The individual geography and climate of each of central and southern Italy’s wine regions make it difficult to generalize about this area as a whole. But these areas experienced many of the same difficulties faced by the rest of Italy and Europe. Summer's rains and cool temperatures made for a tough year.
A mild winter and spring saw vines ahead of schedule by about two weeks in April. But clouds and cool days slowed things down quickly and summer's wet days made for a lot of work in the vineyards. Disease, including peronospora and acetic rot, meant that vineyard management and selection was necessary in order to harvest healthy grapes. Yields are lower than 2013’s bumper crop and a bit below the average for each region.
The weather in September and during harvest was good, more typical for the time of year. As a result, many producers report that despite the season’s challenges, they are pleased with the vintage as a whole. Verdicchio from the Marche expresses bright acidity and aromatic character, while Primitivo from Puglia shows good balance. But the standout is clearly Sicily, where weather conditions improved at the end of June and the vineyards enjoyed a warm and dry growing season typical to the island.
Picking fruit in Chianti Classico at Badia a Coltibuono.
The good news: Elegant wines for those who did their homework in the vineyards (canopy management, leaf pulling, green harvest, selection).
The bad news: A difficult year for white grape varieties and early-ripening reds. Smaller than usual crop—on average 20 percent less.
Picking started: Sept. 10 (for white grapes in Bolgheri); Sept. 4 to 10 (Maremma and Bolgheri) and Sept. 15 (Montalcino) and Sept. 20 (Chianti Classico) for red grapes.
Promising grapes: The late season favored Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
Challenging grapes: White varieties and Merlot.
Analysis: Tuscany's year started with a warm, wet winter, followed by a warm spring and early vine growth. The rains continued, and the humidity—combined with rapid vegetative growth—kept vintners on their toes. “The wet and warm climate generated a very vigorous vegetative growth, which meant a complicated management for growers,” said Giovanni Folonari of Tenute Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari, "both to obtain a correct canopy management and to free the vines from potential fungus attacks."
Rainfall differed from place to place, however. Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti, co-owner of Castello di Ama in Chianti Classico, reported their area had less precipitation than the northern part of the region, closer to Florence. But in Montalcino, Biondi-Santi reported it will not make a Brunello.
Luca Marrone, enologist for Grattamacco, Colle Massari and Poggio di Sotto, wrote that there was more rain in the Bolgheri area than in Montecucco and the southern sector of Montalcino. Selection was important, he added, especially in Montalcino, where there were attacks of Drosophila suzukii, the Asian vinegar fly.
Axel Heinz of Ornallaia and Masseto noted that it was important to control fungal diseases and keep the canopy healthy to take advantage of the late-season ripening. Heinz also said the white harvest was “fabulous” due to cooler than average August temperatures. “We picked without refrigerated trucks, and it was the first time we picked white grapes in the afternoon.”
Nebbiolo is picked at Barolo's G.D. Vajra.