Hot weather and drought mean that some sparkling wine producers in northern Italy have started harvesting grapes 12 days earlier than normal.  

Producers of Italian sparkling wine Franciacorta, in Lombardy, east of Milan, officially began their 2017 wine harvest on 3 August.

Picking began as the so-called ‘Lucifer heatwave’ became the latest spate of hot weather to arrive in parts of Europe this summer; leading to health warnings for citizens and problems for public services in several countries.

In the vineyards, many areas have reported that vines are ahead of schedule in 2017.

Franciacorta producers do not normally start harvest until after ‘Ferragosto’, a national bank holiday, which falls on 15 August.

‘The extremely high temperatures we’ve been having lately made us start the harvest,’ Mauro Piliu, export director of Castello di Gussago, told Decanter.com.

The estate was harvesting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The official regulations of the region dictate that the grape harvest must not begin before 1 August. ‘It seems that recently we’ve been getting closer and closer to that date,’ said Piliu.

It’s been a year of extremes in many of Europe’s vineyards.

Earlier in the year, some areas of Italy, Spain and France experienced early blossom followed by devastating frosts, while others were affected by hailstorms.

Franciacorta is expected to see overall yields down by 30% due to earlier frosts, according to the region’s wine council.

Piliu estimated that, due to the weather conditions, the 2017 production of Castello di Gussago will be 10 percent lower than last year.

Italy’s Coldiretti agricultural lobby said it expected wine production across the country to be 10 percent to 15 percent lower than in 2016.

Italy is not the only country seeing an early start to its wine harvest.

In Spain, Colet winery, just outside Barcelona, has also started picking grapes for sparkling wines.

‘We started on 3 August, which is the record earliest in the history of our vineyard,’ said Irene Mestre Torras from Colet Viticultors. ‘It’s even earlier than in 2015 when the heat forced us to begin on 6 August.’

Similarly to the Italian Franciacorta region, the harvest in Penedes normally begins after 15 August.

Colet started with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Normally there is a time window between the picking of different variety of grapes, but due to the prolonged heat the ripeness of many grapes will coincide and the harvest time for each of their varieties will be about 10 days earlier.

‘Xarel-lo, for example, is usually harvested in September, but this year we believe we will have finished by the end of August,’ said Torrras.

Colet’s production drop is estimated to be at around 15 percent as opposed to 2016.

In France, the agriculture ministry said last month that the vineyard growing season was two weeks ahead of schedule in several areas.

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