There are a lot of challenges facing Italian wine producers at the moment. Constantly increasing demand has put them under a bigger burden than ever before.
Of course, this demand is by no means a bad thing. It’s due to the increasing popularity of Italian wine that the industry has been able to grow as remarkably as it has over the last few years.
However, the problem it does raise is that manufacturers are having to deal with a whole host of problems that could prevent them from meeting this demand. A changing planet means changes to the way that producers work. They now have to account for different weather conditions and climate change as well as the increased demand.
The Challenges Facing the Industry
The challenges that face the Italian wine industry right now come from multiple fronts.
You could argue that climate change is the biggest challenge of all. Over the last couple of decades, there’s been a definite shift in the sort of weather that Italian winemakers can expect. Early frosts, long summers, and other issues have all affected their crops.
The problem with these changing weather conditions is that they take away the element of predictability that’s so crucial to growing grapes. Each grape is different and each requires a specific means of taking care of it to ensure it reaches the maximum level of quality. The weather is something that’s completely out of control of the producer. If the weather doesn’t favour their grape, their harvests go down. This is particularly heartbreaking when it’s part of an overall climate change pattern, rather than a freak weather occurrence.
There’s also the issue of environmental damage. This is perhaps why many winemakers now go the organic route. Damage to the land is not caused exclusively by inorganic winemaking practices of course. But they certainly don’t help. Some winemakers may find that they get weaker yields simply because their efforts, all made in good faith, have caused damage to their land.
Add into that damage that comes from external sources and you have a major issue for the producer. This is not a problem that’s on the same scale as climate change. Changing weather conditions are the biggest threat that producers face in the current age. Plus, it’s not an issue that’s unfixable, as changes to production methods and other ecological protection efforts can remedy the problem.
Still, the damage that occurs to a producer’s land will naturally affect their harvest.
Then there’s the more practical challenge of meeting rising demand while trying to maintain the quality of the wine. Increased pressure to produce could lead to some producers favouring yield over quality. It can also be an impossible task if the climate works against you.
All of these issues affect the work that Italian winemakers do and can have an effect on the year’s harvest. In fact, we saw in 2017 that Italian wine production is not always as consistent as the industry would like it to be.
The State of the 2017 Harvest
In 2017, the Italian winemaking industry was bigger than it had ever been before. The industry was breaking new ground in Asian territories and experiencing unprecedented demand from established territories.
This was not the time for the harvest to produce one of the lowest yields in recent memory.
A combination of frost in the spring and a heatwave that the Italians nicknamed “Lucifer” conspired to create conditions that did not favour a healthy harvest. In fact, estimates at the time suggested that the overall yield would fall 25% when compared to the yield achieved in 2016. Others suggested that the yield would actually end up being the worst that the Italian industry had seen in 60 years.
That’s hardly ideal in a year when Italian wine had become more popular than ever before.
The problem wasn’t isolated to Italy either. France also faced what some would believe would be the lowest yield since 1945.
A lot of producers found that their grapes came in smaller than usual, which obviously affects the amount of wine they made using them. However, an unexpected side-benefit of this is that it creates a more concentrated juice, which could lead to interesting qualities in the resulting wine.
Still, the fact remains that 2017 was a poor year for the Italian wine harvest. Worst of all, it came at a time when demand was reaching a pinnacle that the industry hasn’t really seen before.
Here’s the Good News
This is all gloom and doom so far. If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up painting a picture of an industry in crisis.
Thankfully, 2018 appears to have brought much happier news.
Global reports suggest that yields have shot up during the course of 2018. More consistent weather conditions have prevented the same situation from arising as that which affected the industry in 2017.
In Italy, the positive effects of this are more pronounced. After a poor 2017, early estimates state that the industry has bounced back. Yields are believed to be 18% higher than they were in 2017. This doesn’t bring them back to 2016 levels, but it’s definitely a good thing after so many producers worried that 2017 would set a new standard when it comes to the harvest.
That’s not to say that the problems that led to 2017’s low yields have disappeared. And that’s something that winemakers will have to take note of for the future. There’s a lot of work still to be done to ensure more consistent yields in the future.
The Final Word
We’re delighted to report that 2018 appears to be a much better year for the Italian wine harvest than 2017 was. More stable weather conditions have led to higher yields, which pleases a lot of producers.
However, we must not forget the lessons that 2017 taught us. There are issues at play that could cause major problems for the industry if left unchecked. Perhaps it’s time for a concerted effort on the part of the industry to tackle the climate change problem.