Fingers crossed: harvest 2011

by Laura Gray on September 18, 2011

It’s that time of year again; to pick or not to pick? Shall we, shan’t we? Who has, who hasn’t?

This year many producers in Montalcino began harvest at the beginning of September, particularly the low-lying properties. Historically harvest in Montalcino is in October so this is very early. Temperatures all last week were 5-7 degrees celsius higher than average. Sugar levels are high and a storm is predicted tonight. As I write a strong wind is stirring the cypresses and the stars are hidden.

Late last Tuesday Marco came back from testing our lower vineyards muttering “Bisogna levarla” – “Got to get them off.” Vigna del Capa has vines that are over thirty years old and therefore have developed root systems. This means they didn’t suffer “stress idrico” in August but nevertheless their Brix is already much higher than necessary minimum for Brunello. Brix is a measurement of the sugar content of an aqueous solution and Brunello grapes must have a certain level of sugar in order to guarantee the minimum alcohol % of 12.5.

The next day we rushed to wash out our crates and check that our beautiful brand-new vibrating selection table is in working order. We fully expected to pick on Thursday and were ready to do so. But as the next twenty-four hours unfolded harvest was relegated to maybe Friday and has now been postponed until some point in the coming week. We decided to brave the storm; a little water will be beneficial for the vines and the fruit. The ten predicted days of perfect weather that should follow plus the inevitable ever widening day/night thermal excursion will give our grapes perfect physiological ripening. Although we could pick now, or indeed have already harvested, we hope to improve the quality of our yield by waiting.

 This is decided by an inexact combination of science and instinct and there is no recipe from year to year. We use the internet for weather forecasts including the very precise data used and produced by the Aeronautica Militare. Marco also spends time licking his index finger and testing the wind, talking to old ginks and neighbouring producers and applying the knowledge he has of this specific place having lived here all his life. Every five days or so we send 400 single grapes plucked from different clusters from different areas of our vineyards to be analysed in a laboratory and he walks the vineyard with our agronomer twice a week.  We also check the pennello daily (the exposed tip of the stalk after a grape is removed, right now it’s white and when the grapes are ripe it will show a tell-tale dot of ruby red), the contadino method to assess the grape’s maturity.

May tonight’s storm come and go. It has just started to rain gently. So far so good.

Previous post:

Next post: