Some wine producers in Italy's Valpolicella area have been finding it hard or impossible to select good-quality grapes this harvest for their Amarone wines after a late-August hailstorm destroyed the entire crop of some vineyards. A number of producers in the region, especially around the towns of Mezzane, Grezzana and Illasi—areas to the east of the designated Valpolicella Classico zone—have found themselves with little or nothing to work with.
"It was tragic," said Romano dal Forno, one of Veneto's top Amarone producers. "The hail took away up to 95 percent in the vineyards around our winery, stripping the vines of their leaves completely and exposing the grapes to further damage. You can only make quality Amarone with perfectly healthy grapes, so I'm putting everything left into the normal Valpolicella."
Healthy grape bunches of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and other local red grapes are usually selected at harvest time and are dried on indoor racks for three months before being fermented, in the New Year, to produce Amarone della Valpolicella. Valpolicella, however, is made from the same local grape varieties as Amarone, but the red wine is completely dry and the grapes are not dried before fermentation. Dal Forno said that he will not make any Amarone in 2007, as the vineyards around his winery in Illasi took the full force of the storm.
The destructive power of the hailstorm was even more dramatic in the nearby town of Grezzana, where the historic winery Bertani suffered total losses in one-third of its area vineyards.
"I have never seen anything like it in my life," said Bertani winemaker Cristian Ridolfi. "The small hailstones whipped through the vineyard horizontally, carried by a tornado-like wind. The crop lying in its path was totally unusable." He added that production of Bertani's Amarone della Valpolicella Valpantena Villa Arvedi and the Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Valpantena will be down 30 percent in 2007.
In the designated Valpolicella Classico region, located in the valleys that fan out to the north of the city of Verona, higher-altitude vineyards around the town of Marano suffered some hail damage, whereas vineyards lower down the valley, in San Pietro in Cariano and Sant'Ambrogio di Valpolicella, escaped unscathed.
Despite dramatic losses in some vineyard areas, the Valpolicella growers' association reported that the overall loss in the Valpolicella area amounts to only around 5 percent, when compared to the 2006 vintage. Reports from the Allegrini and Zenato wineries, whose Amarones are perhaps the best known in the United States, the Amarone production will be normal in 2007. In fact, wineries that escaped the hail are predicting good results from the 2007 vintage. "The musts show unusually good color, which normally heralds good structure in the finished wine," said Riccardo Tedeschi, winemaker at the family winery Tedeschi.
"The weather during the harvest has been really good," added Dal Forno. "For those who were spared, it should be a good year for Amarone."