European Record Early Harvests Because of Heat Wave
Staff Writer - August 31, 2003
This season, many European winemakers are racing to harvest at an extremely early time after this summer's deadly heat and extended drought wave. Some began picking about a month ahead of schedule, and some are actually wrapping up before the time they usually get started.
Some producers are foreseeing a good vintage for 2003, especially for red varieties that excel in hot weather and therefore have ripened exceptionally well. Others though, point out that grapes that thrive in cooler climates have suffered a lot and could easily overripen, or even shrivel, translating into too-high alcohol levels for the wines. One thing is sure though, the grapes are substancially smaller than usual.
After last year's rain-soaked harvest, Italian producers are looking at another possibly problematic harvest, though this time around, it is for completely the opposite reason. The amazingly hot and long summer brought daytime temperatures in excess of 104° Fahrenheit (40° Celsius), dropped barely a few degrees overnight and saw almost no rain between May and August.
The rain finally came toward the end of August in the north, center and only in parts of the soutern regions. But it's not going to help the unbalanced grapes, which have very high sugar levels by now. There is the actual risk that getting water at this time woul unbalance the product even more.
The southern regions are better off than central and northern regions, and microclimate is playing a bigger part then usual. Friuli, which had overall temperatures lower than the rest of Italy this summer, looks like it's going to have a good vintage. The soil type as well is going to play a more important part than usual. Because of the long drought, clay soils are better off since they retasin more water from the winter rainfall compared to alluvial soils.
The harvest of white grapes and early-ripening reds such as Merlot has already started and in some cases is completely finished in various parts of Italy. Before mid-September it will be time to start harvesting Sangiovese, Barbera, Cabernet and Nero d'Avola, while the harvest of late-ripening varieties such as Nebbiolo, will be picked two to three weeks in advance.
The Tuscan Merlot is already harvested. Cabernet, which copes better with extreme temperatures is faring better, as do Chianti Classico, Montalcino and Montepulciano DOCs. These wines should be fine as long as nights cool off and no heavy rains fall during the next two weeks.
Piedmont's Dolcettoharvest is underway now and Barbera will follow suit and both varieties are showing high alcohol levels of 14° and more. Nebbiolo picking will start around the 10th of September and high alcohol levels will be around 16°.