Italian vineyards were hit by a double-whammy of frost and drought this year. Find out more in the second chapter of Imbibe’s northern hemisphere 2017 harvest round-up:
The Overview: Italian wine producers face the smallest harvest in decades thanks to the Ice Maiden and Lucifer
The Good News: Early days but the Nebbiolo-based reds of Piedmont could be very good.
The Bad News: Quantity: volumes are down virtually everywhere, and prices look set to rise.
There’ll be 2 billion – yes, 2 billion – fewer bottles of Italian wine produced in 2017 than in 2016, according to the Association of Italian Enologists. Lay the blame for the country’s smallest harvest for 60 years at the door of those pesky frosts in April and a summer heatwave that acquired the name Lucifer.
While the more northerly parts of the country experienced the worst of the frosts, even Sicily felt its effects. In many regions, the better-sited vineyards on the hillsides escaped the worst of the ravages, while those on the plains were badly affected.
Since these latter tend to be the ones that provide the lower cost, higher volume wines, there will be pressure on both prices and availability. This is particularly true for Pinot Grigio which has moved from IGT to DOC delle Venezie, which involves lower yields.
The ‘Lucifer’ summer heat saw temperatures in many parts of the country top 40°C for several days on end. The drought impacted all aspects of agriculture, so much so that Sardinia, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and the Veneto all asked the government to declare a state of emergency.
This will mean a small crop– Sardinia and Tuscany both harvested 45% less than in 2016. As in France there are optimistic noises about quality in many regions, especially among later-ripening grapes such as Aglianico, which benefitted from some rain in September.
However, don’t be surprised if many reds have that awkward combination of overripe fruit flavours and underdeveloped tannins found in hot vintages.
The double whammy of frost and drought was a challenge for Tuscan producers, with crops in some vineyards more than halved. A challenge for the winemakers was dealing with grapes which had shrivelled on the vine in the torrid summer conditions. Those able to eliminate the overripe fruit will have made some deeply-coloured, concentrated wine, albeit in small quantities. But where this has not been possible, a dry tannic imprint may well be in evidence.
Frost in lower-lying districts is common in Piedmont, but in 2017, it crept higher up the hillsides than many growers had ever seen before, reducing yields in most vineyards. The drought had an impact on some younger vines, but thanks to plentiful rain earlier in the season, more established vines were able to draw on underground water supplies and ripened well in the summer heat, with Nebbiolo benefitting from light rain showers in early September. Maybe the wines won’t have the aromatic complexity and freshness of a really great vintage, but there should still be small amounts of very good Barolo and Barbaresco.