Producers of Italy's premium red wine Barolo are facing a ruined harvest this year, while in Chianti the winemakers are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

In Piedmont in northwest Italy, where Barolo is produced, ferocious hailstorms at the beginning of this month destroyed crops. As a result, there will be little or no 2002 Barolo vintage hitting the shelves in 2007.

‘My grapes have been totally destroyed,’ Manuel Marchetti of the highly-rated Poderi Marcarini in La Morra told decanter.com. ‘Luckily the vines withstood the hail, but all the grapes and leaves were ruined.’

Marchetti will have no Dolcetto or Nebbiolo (released the year after harvest) next year, and no Barolo in 2007. He stands to lose around €1m. On the positive side, Marchetti says the next Barolo vintages to be released (next year, 2004, 2005 and 2006) are of excellent quality.

In Chianti, July, August and September have been the rainiest for years. Low pressure means heavy dew on the vines overnight, which won’t burn off until late morning, adding to the general dampness and danger of mould and botrytis.

According to Lamberto Frescobaldi if this had happened ten years ago, it would have meant a disastrous harvest. With recent improvements in vineyard techniques – thinning, rigorous selection and better sites, all is not lost.

‘We still have a selection of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and all our Sangiovese to pick,’ he said. ‘The temperature has fallen and there is no risk of further mould. If the weather improves Sangiovese can be picked as late as end of October, so there is still time to recuperate.’

At Collelungo in Castellina in Chianti, Tony Rocca is keeping his fingers crossed.

‘We start to pick tomorrow, but we will count ourselves very lucky if we get away with low yields and not a ruined harvest. I think the same goes for the rest of Chianti,’ he said.’

Sean O’Callaghan at Riecine at Gaiole in Chianti said, ‘Everyone is worried. We have had rain for the last two or three days. The forecast is good so we intend to pick on Monday, although a lot of the bigger growers are picking now as they can’t risk waiting and possibly losing their crop.’

Most producers have been conducting damage control exercises for a month now, spraying against mould and praying for better weather. At the same time they have chopped out about 50% of their crop, throwing away anything that has the merest suggestion of mould in the hope that the best grapes can mature properly.

Written by Michele Shah, and Adam Lechmere25 September 2002