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‘Apocalyptic’ storms devastate NE Italy

Thunderstorms with winds of over 130km/h have decimated vineyards in Northeast Italy over the weekend, destroying the crops of premium producers like Masi and Costaripa.

Worst hit were the wine-producing regions around the Lake Garda basin, with some areas calling on the government for emergency status to be granted. Forecasters are warning vintners in all regions to expect heavy rainfall and possibly hail in the next few days.

The Italian Ministry of Agriculture estimates that around 4,000ha of prime vineyards have been damaged between Franciacorta and Valpolicella. The damage for the agricultural sector stands currently at €200m, with massive losses in the viticultural sector.

In the Garda Classico and Bardolino regions the 2002 vintage has been completely destroyed – and producers reckon the next couple of vintages will be seriously damaged.

On Lake Garda’s West coast, Puegnago, Manerba and Moniga have been ravaged. ‘In Moniga the vines look as if it’s winter,’ said Mattia Vezzola, of producer Costa Ripa. ‘We can now only try to look after them and save them for the future.’

He added the area has called for emergency status to be granted, as have the regions of Lazise and Bardolino. Production of Bardolino for 2002 is ruined, but vintners hope damage will be limited to this year’s crop.

‘I have never seen anything like it,’ said Emilio Pedron, CEO of Gruppo Italiano Vini. ‘It looked like the apocalypse.’

Several zones – such as Lugana and Soave – have been unaffected. Patrizia Contato of Provenza said the Lugana harvest will take place as scheduled at the end of August. Claudio Gini of Gini said Soave and even Eastern Valpolicella have recorded no damage.

In Valpolicella, local authorities estimate about 350ha, out of 5,000ha overall, have been seriously damaged, and that part of the zone’s production will have to be declassified as a result. Vineyards have been seriously hurt in Sant’Ambrogio, San Pietro in Cariano, Marano, Fumane and Negrar. Here, winemakers such as Giuseppe Quintarelli have lost up to 80% of their harvest.

Premium Valpolicella producer Masi has recorded an overall loss of around 80% of its grapes and has decided not to produce its two prestigious crus Manzano and Campolongo di Torbe. ‘This is a year to forget,’ the company’s Sandro Boscaini said, ‘The consequences for Amarone production will be very bad.’

A press release from another highly-rated Valpolicella producer, Allegrini, sent out today, plays down the initial damage. ‘The high quality 2002 vintage has been partially destroyed in only a number of locations. A more careful grape selection will ensure a quality harvest.’

Sabrina Tedeschi of Fratelli Tedeschi said 2002 would have been a great vintage, with an early harvest, but now double selection will be necessary to produce any quality Amarone.

In Franciacorta, Cà del Bosco in Erbusco reckons that about 20% of its production is lost. Hail has wiped out 50% of Bornato producer Monte Rossa’s vines. At Barone Pizzini, 30% of the vines have been lost.

As in Valpolicella, several Franciacorta producers are relieved to have been spared the cyclone. One of these is Fratelli Berlucchi. Pia Berlucchi affirms that Corte Franca, where the winery is located, saw heavy rainfall but no hail.

Written by Andrea Zanini6 August 2002

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