We began picking at Gaja's Montalcino property, Pieve Santa Restituta Sept. 20. The weather this year kept us holding our breath!
The weather trends occurred in two phases: The first saw abundant rains, especially in the spring, with quite a cold May and beginning of June that slowed down the flowering of the vines. In the second phase, the temperatures started to rise, but from the middle of July until the end of the month we had additional rain showers that contributed, along with the previous rains, to the swelling of the berries. Sangiovese grapes have a tendency to swell with water. For this reason, the berries this year have been bigger than usual.
The rest of July, August and the middle of September were very hot and dry, with the Scirocco wind prominent for almost 10 days in mid- to late-August, increasing drought conditions. Scirocco is a warm wind that intensifies the heat of the summer and, when it occurs for an extended time, is feared by growers because it can over-dry the berries and leaves.
The Pieve church is nestled among the vineyards of Montalcino in Tuscany.
This year, however, the wind was very useful, because it helped dry the swelled berries. The repeated presence of cool Tramontana wind that comes in from the Alps in the middle of September further helped the grapes dry and ripen faster.
It definitely has been a year in which experience and observation have been very important in responding to the different climatic trends. In the last three weeks the temperatures decreased a bit, but even now the average is 25º C (77º F) at midday, with significant temperature swings at night, with lows of about 15º C (59º F).
In order to minimize further growth, we decided to divide the green harvest into four small, repeated interventions from July to Aug 15. This is more frequent than normal but this year we preferred repeated, judicious smaller cuts. This was done to prevent cutting too many bunches at once and avoid having the vines produce even larger, more swollen berries.
To protect the bunches from the direct heat of the sun, sfogliamento (stripping away the leaves in order to enhance exposure of the berries) was done sparingly this year and only in the north-facing part of the vineyards.
A Pieve Santa Restituta harvest worker makes a pass through the vine rows.
In August we started monitoring the ripening process by selectively sampling different grapes, at first once a week and then more frequently to measure the rising levels of sugar and acidity in the grapes.
Finally, Sept. 24 we harvested the first vineyard, the older part of Santo Pietro, a 22-year-old vineyard with clay and sandy soil and a southwest exposure that, with Pian dei Cerri and Castagno, produces the grapes for Rennina. The values were optimal: 6.5 acidity, 3.4 pH and 240 sugar.
Oct. 2, we continued the harvest with Sugarille (our single vineyard of 4 hectares). We picked in the morning, and netted 40 quintals per hectare (approximately 1.7 tons per acre). The weather cooperated and harvest, which ended Oct.12, took barely more than two weeks.