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How the Tuscany 2018 vintage is shaping up

Ella Lister, founder of Wine Lister, reports on a three-day tour of Tuscany to gauge the mood among Chianti Classico, 'Super Tuscan' and Brunello di Montalcino producers.

The 2018 harvest will lead to a five-star vintage for Chianti Classico wines, according to Giovanni Manetti, newly-elected president of the appellation’s Consorzio.

The growing season was ‘very regular’, with no extreme weather events, and normal picking times, he said.

Thanks to healthy grapes, ripe yet fresh, Manetti believes the vintage will be characterised by ‘harmony’. The DOCG appellation is set to produce around 270,000 hectolitres (27 million litres) from the 2018 harvest, which constitutes a return to normal levels after a less abundant 2017.

Harvest was well underway on Monday 24 September at Fontodi, Manetti’s winery in Panzano. It had not rained for 22 days, and the ground was dusty. However, Manetti explained that in Panzano, while hot, temperatures had not risen above 36˚C, and that nights had been cool.

At Castello di Fonterutoli, 15km further south, Giovanni Mazzei added that the heat had been nothing on 2015, when temperatures rose above 45˚C.

However, Mazzei was somewhat less sanguine about the 2018, citing humid mornings as a challenge. Having picked one third of the estate’s production by last Monday (24th), the next fortnight will be a race against rot.

Mazzei predicted that the vintage might fall between the opulent 2015s and the structured 2016s in terms of quality and style.

Towards the coast, in Bolgheri, the Merlot harvest was almost finished. ‘The fermenting wines are silky and fragrant,’ according to Axel Heinz, estate director at both Ornellaia and Masseto.

Heinz said he was grateful for ‘excellent conditions during September, with sunny and mostly dry weather accompanied by occasionally hot day temperatures but cool nights’.

In Bolgheri, ‘mildew and humidity have been challenging’, he said, echoing a problem that has also been prevalent in Bordeaux. ‘But we were able to bring healthy fruit to full ripeness,’ said Heinz, who added that yields in 2018 are normal. He predicted ‘a more delicate vintage, like 2013’.

Moving down the coast, in the Maremma, Elisabetta Geppetti, owner of Fattoria Le Pupille, spoke of relatively normal climatic conditions leading to ‘a good year’.

The first lot of Merlot for Geppetti’s flagship wine, Saffredi, was already vinified and ‘marvellous’, she said. She was delighted with her Cabernet Sauvignon, too, and relayed the view of Le Pupille’s consultant oenologist, Luca d’Attoma, that the grape has thrived throughout the whole southern part of Tuscany. Sangiovese has ripened less evenly, she said.

Back inland, in Sangiovese’s heartland of Montalcino, the picture was less clear-cut last week.

This was predominantly due to the effects of heavy rain in spring and early summer.

‘Winemakers had not seen this kind of weather since the nineties,’ said Giacomo Pondini, director of the Brunello di Montalcino Consorzio.

There has been ‘too much humidity in the air’, according to Gianfranco Soldera, who described the summer as ‘almost tropical’.

He said that at Case Basse, Soldera’s cult winery, 2018 has been ‘a year of suffering’, with mildew, oidium, and ‘mould in general’. To combat this, a team of 20 people has been combing the vineyard and removing bunches non-stop since June.

Soldera said that he was still confident of making a great wine in 2018, albeit in very small quantities; unlike in 1989, the only year when Soldera didn’t make a wine, because of too much rain.

Elisabetta Gnudi, the owner of neighbouring wineries Caparzo and Altesino, put 2018 somewhere between a four and five-star vintage.

To absorb the humidity, her team used clay dust on the vines. ‘It’s like using baby powder’, she said. Again echoing the story in Bordeaux, she said that she believed ‘true organic vineyards haven’t harvested a single grape this year’.

At Argiano, sales manager Riccardo Bogi also described a less plain-sailing vintage than in Chianti. On top of the heavy rain, a hailstorm in July wiped out 25% of the crop in some vineyards. However, positioned high up on the hill of Argiano, wind in August meant the winery was able to counter rot with copper and sulphur, although the ‘agronomist didn’t get a vacation’, quipped Bogi.

Like Heinz in Bolgheri, he said that he expected 2018 to share characteristics with the elegant 2013s, saying they won’t have intense colour or structure.

There was a dramatic change in the weather on Monday 24 September, with temperatures dropping and strong winds picking up, which lasted throughout our three-day visit.

At the Brunello di Montalcino Consorzio, Pondini said that he hoped remaining grapes on the vines would ‘benefit from this sunny, cool and windy week’. Half of the appellation’s Sangiovese had already been harvested.

This article was originally published on Wine-Lister.com. Ella Lister is the founder of Wine Lister.

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