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By Jo Cooke
The 2000 vintage proved difficult for many winemakers in Tuscany. Cool, wet weather in July helped to steady the advanced ripening brought on by a hot June, but could do little to prepare the vineyards for the onslaught of a violent heat wave that arrived in August and turned grapes to raisins in some instances. In addition, rains in October diluted any grapes that wineries had left out in the vineyards -- particularly late-ripening Sangiovese -- in hopes of gaining more balance.
Yet the general feeling among the region's producers is that a decent vintage has been achieved, despite the extreme conditions that they, along with the rest of Italy, faced.
"The summer was very hot," said Franco Bernabei, consulting enologist for Fontodi and Felsina, in Chianti Classico, and Selvapiana, in Chianti Rufina. "But potential problems were avoided by good vineyard management and careful selection of the grapes. We also had to break up the earth a bit, to allow the [vines'] root structure to breathe."
"On the basis of the excellent color and good level of alcohol achieved, I would say that, in Tuscany at least,  beat the '99 vintage," added Bernabei.
Due to the high sugar levels brought on by the hot temperatures, the harvest was early for many estates. At Fattoria Petrolo, the Merlot that goes into Galatrona, one of Tuscany's top single-variety wines, was harvested during the last weekend of August. As for the Sangiovese, said Petrolo owner Luca Sanjust, they "tossed a coin" and started picking mid-September, two weeks early. "It was a gamble," said Sanjust. "We were worried at first that overripeness and the high level of alcohol might hinder fermentation. A month later, our fear had passed."
Further south in Montalcino, home of Brunello di Montalcino, the intense heat hit the vineyards south of town hard. Producers had to deal with raisened, or passito, grapes and potential alcohol levels of more than 16 percent, which could lead to overly alcoholic and unbalanced wines. (Typically, alcohol levels for Tuscan table wines tend to fall between 12 percent and 13.5 percent.) North of the town, where temperatures are somewhat lower, these problems were less severe.
"Our only problem was uneven ripeness," said Claudio Basla, manager and co-owner of Altesino, perhaps the best winery in the region. "We had a good sugar level, but we delayed the harvest till the last week of September, to allow the level of polyphenols to rise. Even so, this was still early for us." Basla predicted that the 2000 vintage would be as good, if not better, than the 1995. (The overall '95 vintage for Brunello was rated 91 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale). "It may almost match the 1997 (which, at 98 points, senior editor James Suckling called Italy's 'vintage of the century')," he added, "but it's too early to say."
For more on the 2000 harvest in Italy, read 2000 Harvest Diary at Badia a Coltibuono and recent news:
Learn more about past vintages in Tuscany: