We just received word via the Brunello Consortium that the Ministry for Agriculture published a circular (number 6858 – 19 April 2013) clarifying that irrigazione di soccorso (emergency irrigation) is permitted for DOCG, DOC and IGT wines when this is not mentioned in their disciplinaries. In recent years the combination of increased temperatures and decreased rainfall all over Italy has made this specification necessary. The article recognises that emergency irrigation is by definition an extreme measure that, when used correctly, is to safeguard a harvest. There is no risk of it being used to increase the yield of grapes (thus impacting quality) in so far as DOCG, DOC and IGT wines already have legislation in place that limits yields (to guarantee quality).
We have all noticed the rise in temperatures and so this new possibility of intervention is welcome news in Montalcino. In 2012 for the first time it was possible to insure vineyards for the devasting effects of heat spikes, a concrete illustration of how widespread the issue of heat damage has become. Concern has often been voiced by Fabrizio Bindocci, current president of the Consorzio. Over a year ago his son posted an eloquent explanation of why emergency irrigation ought to be contemplated.
We are already bound by the disciplinary to respect a yield of 8.000 kg. per hectare (and here at Il Palazzone we stay well below that yield) so there is no chance of using watering to increase quantity and dilute quality. What it means is that from 2013 onwards producers may be able to partially mitigate the effects of scorching heat - 2011 and 2012 were ”hot” vintages. This is relevant for the south-facing low-lying vineyards of Montalcino – and we have one of these.
In principle emergency irrigation seems like a simple solution but it is definitely has to be a rare intervention in vintages characterised by extreme and prolonged drought. In these years monitoring every vineyard and timing will be extremely important since watering when the vines are already in difficulty is counterproductive and heat-spikes are unpredictable. The recent trend of ever-increasing ABVS for Brunello’s in general will not necessarily be inverted. This is another complex matter since increased levels of sugar are also connected with vineyard management (specifically the frequency and timing of cimatura - topping) which affects hours of direct sunlight, the incidence of new leaves and of the feminelle (lateral secondary offshoots). In addition, in ”normal” vintages some level of stress idrico is acceptable and can even be positive.
When welcoming visitors to the estate I often cite the weather rule as something that further increases already existing differences between vineyards due to position/elevation/soil … it remains to be seen what will be different in 2013. Not least is the amount of water necessary – as our agronomer Massimo Achilli points out – who has 300-400 cubic metres of water per hectare?
And for the record, right now it’s raining.