Italian wine harvest season 2017 has early arrival due to extreme weather
Struck by harsh weather conditions, Italy expects a drop in wine volumes but local vintners remain confident in the quality of their harvests.
For winemakers, the essence of their millennia-old craft lies in a single event that takes place once a year: crush season. Aptly named ‘crush’, which refers to the process when wine grapes are picked, crushed and fermented, it is basically the wine harvesting stage. It is also directly instrumental to the birth of an exquisite wine.
This year, seasoned Italian winemakers whose calendars have been specially marked for this ritual in October are going to have to reschedule. For the first time in 10 years, crush season has arrived early to vineyards of the world’s biggest wine producer.
The anomalous timing can be credited to the extreme weather conditions that the European country has seen recently. Having forged through spring frosts and hailstorms, Italy is now experiencing an intense heatwave — and this, after months under a dry spell.
The effects of the harsh climate are hardly unnoticeable; all across the country, harvest start dates have arrived around 10 days earlier on average. Grapes have been ripening in the regions of Sicily and Piedmont as early as last month, breaking the tradition of the annual Italian harvest kicking off up north, at the Faccoli family winery in Franciacorta.
How exactly this affects the quality of the wine remains to be seen, but local winemakers are optimistic — even a little unbothered. Manfred Ing, a winemaker at the Querciabella estate in Tuscany, says, “With the heat arriving so early this year, the vines have very small bunches and berries so from a qualitative point of view we are in for some good grapes once it finally rains, which it always does. Yields will probably be down but this is not a problem for us from a fine wine making point of view.”
The fall in wine volumes (which is predicted to range from 10 to 15% according to Italy’s agri-food agency Coldiretti) is not a problem unique to Italy. Neighbouring countries such as France and Spain have also witnessed frost, hail and rainstorms this year, and are likewise expected to experience a drop in wine volumes.
Luckily for Italy, the country is more than likely to hold on to its title of the world’s biggest wine producer. In 2017, Italy’s wine exports are even expected to grow at nearly 5% from last year’s 5.6 billion euros. With sales of 10.5 billion euros in 2016 and a headcount of 1.3 million employees, Italy’s booming wine sector is vital to the country’s otherwise struggling economy.
While Italy boasts larger wine volumes, France can attest to its reign in higher valued wine with exports from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne making 8.2 billion euros last year.