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The Stucchi Prinetti Harvest Diary

Posted: October 31, 2000

The Stucchi Prinetti Harvest Diary

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Nick Goldschmidt

Ken Brown

Michael Beaulac

Dirk Hampson

Nadine Gublin

Frederic Engerer

Wednesday, Aug. 30, 12:30 p.m.

"It's an early harvest all over Italy this year," says Roberto Stucchi, who started Coltibuono's harvest on Aug. 23. (His sister, Emanuela, is currently traveling.) "We are about two weeks ahead of time, having harvested the Chardonnay, Gamay and Merlot. So far things are looking good.

"In fact, the Chardonnay is outstanding. Due to the vines' altitude, the grapes haven't suffered from the drought, which hit us with especially high temperatures in the second part of August. This is quite an unusual factor, as this would be the cooler part of the month. In addition to this, July was cooler, and we have had very little rain in Monti." Monti, about 10 miles from Coltibuono, is where the majority of the estate's vines are planted. Since 1997, Coltibuono has been using its new winery in Monti for vinification, while the old abbey's cellars are used for aging.

"Just by looking at the grapes you can see that the quality is good," continues Stucchi. "The extracts are quite concentrated. However, because of the heat last week, [the grapes] suffered slightly from dehydration, which I think could be an issue with the Sangiovese. If the heat and drought continue, we will have to watch the acid balance. What we need now is some good rain, which would slow down things, dropping the sugar levels and letting the grapes reach a better maturation."

How long did it take to harvest this initial stage? "About two and a half days, with about 14 people helping out," he says. "Because of the early start, we had a little panic in calling our usual pickers back from their summer vacation. We had to round up whoever was available and not at the beach! We usually try and use the same pickers as the previous harvests; however, when things are in full swing, we take on an additional 12 to 15 people, aside from our permanent workers."

Stucchi predicted that the next phase of harvesting won't start for another 10 days or so. "That will be the Vin Santo and the white grapes, then comes the main bulk, which is the Sangiovese, which can take anywhere from two and a half to three weeks. This year, the Sangiovese could overlap [the picking of the other varieties].

"What is interesting about this year is that it is the first year we have gone completely organic in the vineyards, something which we have been planning for several years and which we have already done with our olives. It is much healthier for the vines, the soil and the environment, though it involves more work and a little more attention. On the whole, the preventive approach creates a resistance against disease, which in the long run is better. We were marginally hit by a slight touch of mold and mildew, due to the humid weather we had earlier this year, but this was immediately put under control."

Stucchi concludes, "At this stage, it is really too early to make any predictions. There's still a lot that can happen. However, for the moment, everything is looking very good."

Tuesday, Sept. 5, 3 p.m.

Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti has returned from her trip to the United States, where she was promoting Coltibuono's wine, and once again she is dealing with harvest details.

"In the last week, the weather has taken a turn for the better," she says. The soaring temperatures that much of Italy had been experiencing have fallen by at least 20 degrees F, and midday temperatures in Tuscany are now in the 80s, with cooler nights.

"We hoped it would rain a bit more," she says. "We only had about 6 millimeters [about a quarter of an inch] of rain, and we could do with more, but the grapes are looking good and maturing well."

She adds, "We are still thinking of starting the next stage of the picking by September 16 or 17, but of course this depends somewhat on the weather." As of last week, her brother Roberto, who oversees the vineyards, planned to move on to white grapes as the next stage. "Because of the high sugar levels, Roberto is now thinking of starting the Sangiovese picking at the same time as the whites, which is almost two weeks earlier than usual," Emanuela says.

"The 120 acres of Sangiovese will take about two weeks with a work force of 50," she estimates. "These days, it's quite difficult to find young pickers. In the past, we had a lot of local students. Now I think our students are too well off -- they're not interested in picking grapes," she says, laughing. "We have quite a few pickers from Salerno, in the south of Italy, as well as pickers from Kosovo and Albania." These pickers often share lodging that Coltibuono provides on its property in Monti or rents for them nearby.

Tuesday, Sept. 12, 3 p.m.

Coltibuono has just started to pick its Trebbiano and Malvasia. The weather couldn't be better right now, and the grape quality is looking promising, says Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti.

The intense heat that baked Italy throughout August intensified the grapes' concentration and sugar levels; in some places, the berries are almost at the point of being passito, or raisined.

At Coltibuono, "our yields are certainly lower this year and the grapes are less juicy," says Emanuela. "However, I wouldn't say that our grapes are showing signs of being passito. That would mean that the sugar levels are too high. I would say that our levels of concentration are good. Besides, the temperature over the past two weeks has fallen, and things are back to normal. [The harvest] is still in its early days -- let's give it its due time."

Emanuela adds that "this is perhaps the most complex and time-consuming part of the grape harvest. Both the Malvasia and Trebbiano varieties [which were part of the old field blend used for making Chianti Classico] are scattered here and there, between the old vines. This means that the pickers have to go from vine to vine, like they did in olden times. It takes us about three to four days to harvest these two varieties, and we expect to finish picking them by this coming weekend."

Malvasia and Trebbiano, both white varieties, are also used to make Vin Santo, Tuscany's traditional amber-colored dessert wine. Once picked, the grapes are dried on straw mats or hung in a well-ventilated part of the winery, known as the vinsantaia. The grapes are crushed anytime between November and March, depending on the desired residual sugar level in the wine, and then the wine is aged in small barrels.

"Our tradition of making Vin Santo involves hanging the Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, which we put in a specially built, well-aired part of our new winery, where we let them dry for about four months before crushing them. Then we age [the wine] in barrels for about four years," says Emanuela. Coltibuono makes about 7,000 half-bottles of Vin Santo per year.

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 5 p.m.

The weather is a bit cloudy, and it might rain, but Coltibuono's harvest is still progressing according to schedule, reports Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti. The winery has just started picking its Sangiovese.

"We have a full team of pickers out at the moment," she says. "All in all, there are about 40 people on the job, and if we're lucky enough not to be interrupted by the rain, it's about two weeks of solid picking. On the other hand, if it rains, we will have to interrupt.

"The pickers are divided into three teams, about 10 to a team, each working in a different area of the vineyard. At the winery, we have another team in charge of selecting the best grapes. Once the grapes are picked, they are put into cases and taken up to the winery by tractor."

How does Coltibuono select its best grapes for its Chianti Classico Riserva? "There is a team of six at the winery who have a bit more experience," she explains. "Once the grapes are unloaded, they are put onto a conveyor belt. Three workers stand on one side and three on the other, and they examine the grapes, bunch by bunch, and not just for external appearance. The best -- that is, the 'first choice' grapes -- are then divided from the 'second choice' grapes."

But they didn't always do it quite this way. "We always have selected the best grapes, but up until 1997, this was done in the vineyard itself," says Emanuela. "We know which are our best vines and the ones that have the best exposure, so that's how we did it. Now, since we built the new winery, the selection is more rigorous, and this has given us better results."

Monday, Sept. 25, 5 p.m.

"This year has been a difficult harvest," reflects Roberto Stucchi Prinetti. "What with the excessive heat at the end of August and the lack of rain during the summer months, we've had to plan carefully day by day. However, the vines have been well looked after throughout the year, and the results are looking good."

Roberto feels more relaxed now that the harvest is almost over. "We've picked the best of the Sangiovese grapes, but we still have about 50 acres to pick. We should be through by the beginning of next week, or maybe even by this Friday." He says that the weather has been stable, the temperature is ideal and there have been no major hold-ups -- except that a team of pickers decided to take today off.

"Our pickers have Sundays off. However, this morning a team of six was missing," says Roberto, laughing and shaking his head. The wayward workers had gone to a nearby town to participate in an annual country market, featuring trading of animals and produce. "They'll be back tomorrow. They're a good team. The atmosphere during the picking is good -- there's plenty of singing, joking and Tuscan humor. There's never a dull moment."

Since the beginning of the year, Roberto has been working with a new team of consultants -- enologist Luca d'Atoma and viticulturist Fabrizio Maltard -- who have been a big help, he says. "Although I usually go around the vineyards each morning checking the situation, deciding which vines are destined to which vats, Luca and Fabrizio have been over and are satisfied with how things are going."

Tuesday, Sept. 26, 12:30 p.m.

Because of the continued warm weather, some of the grapes are beginning to look a bit raisined, or passito, says Roberto Stucchi Prinetti. In order to accelerate the picking, the workers are no longer selecting the best grapes on the conveyor belt in the winery, which is a slow process.

Starting this morning, the harvesters have been making their selections in the vineyards, with one team going ahead and picking the passito grapes and a second team in the rear picking the good bunches. Most of the workers have returned from the country fair [see previous diary entry] and are back on the job, says Roberto, though he could still do with a few more pickers right now.

Wednesday, Oct. 4, 6 p.m.

After a weekend of rain and drizzle, Coltibuono's harvest ended on Monday, Oct. 2. "If we hadn't had to stop for the rain, we would have finished picking in September -- and that would have been a record harvest, in terms of early timing," says Roberto Stucchi Prinetti.

"I am really very pleased with the outcome of this year's harvest. As you know, it didn't look that promising at the beginning, and it hasn't been an easy harvest, but things got better as we progressed, and now I am certain that we will produce a good vintage," continues Roberto. "The quantity is less than we expected -- about 10 percent less than last year."

How is the wine coming along? "From an initial appraisal of the vats, there appear to be no problems with the fermentation, which is coming along fine. The colors are clean and concentrated, and the aromas are balanced. The yeast is also well balanced, and the wine is beginning to form its initial structure."

At this point, says Roberto, about 80 percent of the vats have completed fermentation, and the winery staff is moving on to the next phase. "We still have to decide when's the right moment to separate the wine from the skins. We plan to taste again on Monday, and after that we'll decide when to go ahead with the draining and pressing.

"The length of the skin contact is a very important factor. Generally, we find that with ripe, warm vintages, you can keep the skins longer; with cooler years, you can get problems with green aromas if you leave the skins in too long," he explains. "But this year, conditions are perfect, so we can leave the skins in quite long. We will probably do what we did last year -- that is, leave a couple of the best vats for extra-long, up to about five weeks, on the skins, which gives a nice suppleness to the wine, rounding off the tannins, making it a chewy but soft structure."

Is this vintage comparable to a previous vintage? "Well, it's difficult to say at this stage, but it looks similar to 1998," says Roberto. "The wine is fruity, with hints of blackberries and cherries."

As the busiest period draws to a close, Roberto and his sister, Emanuela, are organizing their end-of-harvest party. "We are going to have a dinner in a small village just above Monti [where the winery is located]. There will be about 70 people, as we invite the pickers as well as all the Coltibuono staff. The dinner will be a traditional Tuscan meal with a few starters, a couple pasta dishes, a mixed grill of different meats and a dessert, all accompanied by Coltibuono wine, merrymaking and dancing."

Tuesday, Oct. 24, 3 p.m.

The harvest is over at Coltibuono, and the winery staff is well into the winemaking process. So far, Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti is satisfied with how things are proceeding on the technical side. "The colors are still evolving but are looking good," she says, "and the acidity levels are also balanced." Extract and sugar levels are good, she notes.

"Today, we finish the maceration, which lasts a minimum of two weeks and can last up to five weeks for lots destined to the Sangioveto," says Emanuela.

She explains that Coltibuono uses a special system for the punch-down. "In our new winery, we have a system of pistons, which pushes the cap of skins down so that they make full but gentle contact with the fermenting must. The pistons then slowly rise up again. This process, which takes place twice a day, helps extract softer tannins, making the wines more approachable in terms of fruit and in terms of less astringency.

"At the end of the maceration period, which varies from tank to tank and is determined by tasting the wine, the vats are then emptied and the pomace is passed into a press, which gently squeezes the skins," says Emanuela. "The skins are then removed and sent to the distillery to be made into grappa."

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