Heat in Montalcino: can someone turn the hairdryer off?

by Laura Gray on September 1, 2011

On 21st August searing hot winds of 41°C (106 F) blew their way across Montalcino. The word on the hill is that depending on age of vines and position of vineyards, many producers are now facing heat-related damage and we are all very much concerned with the health of the grapes so close to harvest.

The effects of last week’s wind are visible already in some vineyards; in the most affected areas bunches are wizened and raisin-like or, in a slightly better scenario, a few grapes per bunch are oxidised. Sadly there is no way to combat the effects of the heat. Those who kept good foliage on the canopy around the bunches were able to protect their grapes from the direct effect of the suns’ rays and the aggression of the wind. Luckily we are in this camp and have suffered very minor damage.

Our vineyards in all three areas of Montalcino are in great condition, although yields will be much lower than the 6.000 kg per hectare that is permitted for Brunello. Our agronomer, Massimo Achilli, after a careful examination of all our different altitude vineyards, is confident that our normal selection procedures will be sufficient. If it doesn’t rain and the high temperatures continue there is a risk in general that figgy, raisiny aromas might sneak into the 2011 bouquet. So rain would be ideal (are you listening Nature? Just putting my intentions out there) – just so long as it’s the odd refreshing shower rather than days of continual rainfall.

Massimo has assured us that in spite of the extreme heat spike in the week of 21 August there is no risk of a repeat of 2003 conditions. This vintage was characterised by a total absence of rainfall from July onwards and a very hot summer. In 2011 there was abundant rain in the last ten days of July. Any damage done this year is not due to the temperatures but to the wind. We call it here “effetto phon” – the hairdryer effect – continual hot air scorches the  leaves and dehydrates the grapes.

Since 26th August night temperatures have become decidedly chilly and our grapes are enjoying the benefits of extreme thermal excursion.

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