The Autumn is upon us, which only means one thing in the Italian wine industry – the harvest. A special time of year for all involved, the harvest is when the erstwhile winemakers of the country finally have the opportunity to reap what they’ve sown. All of their labours up to this point culminate in the picking of the grapes that will be used to create the Italian wines that we all know and love.
Of course, the work doesn’t end at the picking. In fact, you could argue that it is at this point where the work really begins. While the agricultural skill needed to grow great grapes is undeniable, it is in the processing and ageing of those grapes that the wines that we will enjoy over the next few years really take form.
Each harvest is different. Various issues affect the quality of the crop, which is why you will occasionally hear Italian wine connoisseurs refer to certain years as “vintage years”. This are the years where everything came together to allow for a crop of such immense quality, that some would argue that it’s more difficult to make bad wine from the crop than it is to make good wines.
That’s underselling the work of the great wine producers, of course, but it goes without saying that a good harvest generally leads to a superb vintage.
So that brings us back to where we are right now. 2017 is slowly, but surely, eking its way towards its close, and the many Italian wine producers are intently focused on harvesting their grapes. Let’s look back at some of the challenges that such producers have faced over the course of the year.
The Ravages of Mother Nature
Mother Nature gives, and she takes away. In the best years, nature offers perfect weather conditions, which allow vines of all types to flourish. Their grapes are plump and flavourful, which has a huge effect on the wines produced using them.
Unfortunately, 2017 has not been a kind year when it comes to nature. Startlingly strange weather conditions have led to inconsistent growing periods throughout the year, with the wine industries of both Italy and France set to suffer as a result. In fact, the effects are so bad that many are calling this one of the smallest vintages in 60 years. Whether that bears out is still to be seen, but it cannot be denied that 2017 has not been the kindest of years to winemakers.
It all began in the spring. During a period when the growing season is meant to start, with vines getting their first tastes of the sunshine, while enjoying the seasonal showers that quench their first, Italy instead experienced frosts. Inconsistent, and patchy throughout the spring months, these frosts caused massive issues with the vines. You see, frost halts the vine’s ability to grow and process the sunlight and water it needs to flourish. By spring, these frosts are meant to be gone, which is why vines begin flourishing from March onwards each year.
Whether it’s due to the effects of climate change, or simply a freak weather occurrence, there has been a lot of frost at times of the year when it was not expected. This led to the 2017 vintage getting off to a rocky start.
However, that all could have been overcome should the summer conditions have proven suitable.
No, we aren’t talking of the Biblical devil of the same name. Instead, that is the name given to the searing heatwave that has affected much of Europe, including Italy during the summer. Lucifer has caused one of the hottest and driest summers in recent record, which has gone a long way to lowering the amount of grapes produced during the 2017 growing season. In some areas of the country, production was lowered by 30% when compared to 2016.
Water-starved vines have often needed to rely on the manual techniques of their growers, rather than the water they would usually receive from nature, to grow. While every wine manufacturer has tricks up their sleeve for such freak weather occurrences, it does not do to underestimate the combined threat that unseasonal frosts and a massive heatwave can present to the vines.
However, all is not lost. Even with the unfavourable conditions, it is estimated that Italy and France combined will still be able to produce enough wine to fill approximately 5.5 billion bottles. While this may be lower than that produced over the last few years, it is still a lot of wine, so we don’t quite need to worry about any major shortages just yet.
Furthermore, while 2017 may have been a bad year for quantity, many believe that it will be an excellent year for the quality of the grapes produced.
A low harvest means that producers can focus their efforts on selecting the very best grapes from the vines. Additionally, those grapes that have survived these comparatively harsh conditions are clearly blessed with a hardiness that will serve them well when they are finally processed into the wines that we will soon enjoy.
In fact, the entire situation just goes to demonstrate the resilience of the Italian wine industry. Even with the weather working against it, there is still a lot of optimism afoot. What could have turned into a disastrous year for the industry may instead become one that is more noted than most when it comes to quality.
The Final Word
So where does this place the 2017 harvest. Well, at the time of writing, it is still ongoing, so we can’t say for certain outside of the predictions that we have mentioned above.
However, we can’t help but be a little bit excited. While the weather has certainly cast a shadow over the year 2017, it is one that will have a light shone upon it if the predictions relating to the quality of the vines come true.
One things for certain. We cannot wait to get our hands on some 2017 vintages to find out just how good the wines really are.