A DIFFICULT AND EXCITING VINTAGE
Since the turn of the century, 2017 has been one of the most particular vintages.
Frost and hail in spring followed by heat without precipitation in the summer. Nature eluded all expectations but taught an important lesson: in winemaking there are no written rules, only the ability to know, observe and intervene with readiness, care and infinite patience.
The 2017 wine season was a roller coaster. There were moments where it felt as though you could touch the sky, others where it seemed to be falling but there was a constant struggle to understand what will happen beyond the curve: a climb or a chasm. To better understand this ride of emotions, we interviewed Elisa and Andrea Marchetti, who closely followed this year’s vinification. They recount, in detail, the vintage that tested them all.
Andrea and Elisa, the season started on a high note.
After a warm winter, which prompted early vegetation, a terrible frost in April fell on the Langhe and on a great part of Italy. It was a particular event because of its unevenness; rather than a drastic drop in temperatures, frozen winds and localized atmospheric conditions affected areas capriciously.
What happened to the vines?
The sudden cold froze the budding branches, which were no longer able to produce clusters. A vine, however, is a highly resistant plant. Even if the main buds die, it is capable of producing secondary buds which, if they develop correctly, will bear fruit. The principal problem is the young growth vines, which have not built up this resistance and are seriously damaged by abrupt frost.
After the cold, the hail.
Immediately after Easter, a horrible hailstorm hit the vineyards of Neviglie and Barbaresco. We were lucky; our vines suffered only slight damage, while other producers lost most of their future harvest.
How did the rest of the season follow?
This summer will be remembered for its extreme lack of water. From March to October there was no rain, the drought put stress on almost all the vines. Even here, although the oldest vines were better able to adapt as they have deeper roots that reach layers fed by the mountains’ water riserves. However, every cloud has a silver lining.
The heat produced two positive consequences. On one hand, the dryness guaranteed exceptional health of the grapes, significantly lowering fungus and rot treatments. And on the other, the clusters grew compactly, with small grapes, matured to perfection; rarely do we have grapes as beautiful and without defects. The ratio of the pulp to skin is high in these cases and guarantees excellent polyphenolic extraction, giving the wines choice colours and aromas.
The quantity, however, was reduced.
True. The shoots compensated for the lack of water by producing lighter clusters, with less juicy grape berries. By averaging the sums, we can calculate a decrease in the amount of wine produced as 15% - 20% for reds, and almost 50% for whites.
Lets speak about the quality of the wines, beginning with the whites.
The white grapes were harvested at the end of August, which we had anticipated. The heat matured grapes with high levels of sugars which generated fermentations with higher alcoholic strengths. The vinification, however, surprised us by maintaining a good freshness and giving our whites an unexpected ease of drink, with an aromatic bouquet similar to the best vintages.
For the red wines?
The harvest of the red grapes happened about two weeks early. Tastings from the barrel confirmed that the wines will mature rapidly, which is typical of hot years. This signifies that the Barolo, for example, will be ready first. Perhaps they will be less prolonged, but more approachable, which may be appreciated by those who wish to begin to know the “King of Wines.”
What lessons have been imparted from this especially particular vintage?
Often we are por at controlling nature, but in reality, it is up to us to look after her, to know her, to put her in the best condition. The continual climate change and the uncertainty of the seasons have pushed us to deepen our proximity of the vineyard, to listen to it day after day, to make careful and constant checks. We had to throw away the "rules" and devote ourselves to listening, planning step by step.
Will this year’s difficulties have a potential bearing on the future?
The vines were put through a great deal and struggled greatly against the adverse climate. The risk is that the reserves used this year tired the plants. We hope for a calmer, quieter 2018 to be able to renew our capabilities to track and time our interventions.