What was initially billed at a top quality vintage in Italy is keeping producers on tenterhooks.

The problem has been the unpredictable weather. Throughout August hailstorms have caused problems in Piedmont’s prime Barolo regions, affecting parts of Serralunga d’Alba – particularly the renowned vineyards of Vigna Rionda, Monforte d’Alba and parts of Castiglione Falletto.

Further south in Tuscany, hailstorms followed by a tornado damaged vineyards in Chianti Rufina.

‘Up until 15 August the grounds for forecasting a top vintage were certain. But

this bizarre weather, with rain and low temperatures, has changed all that,’ said Giuseppe Martelli, managing director of the Associazione Enologi Enotecnici Italiani (Assenologi), which represents the majority of the country’s winemakers.

He added, ‘September is crucial for the ripening of the grapes and all we can hope for is some warm sunny days.’

The official outlook for 2005 is more optimistic. Issued by the Assenologi on 3 September, when only about a third of Italy’s national production had been harvested, the report predicted fine, fresh aromatic whites, and balanced, structured reds.

According to Martelli and the Assenologi report, 2005 should be 4% down on 2004. Prices for grapes in bulk have fallen in some regions as much as 40%, the association says.

Written by Michele Shah