By David Gleave MW
“We knew Italy was set for a short vintage, as all our producers have been telling us they are considerably down on last year, but yesterday’s figure of 38.9 million hectolitres, the smallest vintage since 1947 (when only 36.4 million hl were produced), has come as a surprise. According to the ‘Associazione Enologi Enotecnici Italiani’ (Association of Italian Enologists) who have just released updated figures, 2017 is 28% - or 2 billion bottles – down on the 2016 vintage.
The low yields are due to spring frosts and a long drought over the summer. When producers came to pick in September, they had invariably underestimated their losses, as the dry summer had left bunches much lighter than they at first appeared. In one case, the drought caused a loss of fruit, but not in the way the producer, Paolo De Marchi of Isole e Olena, had expected:
"I went to see the Chardonnay vineyard on a Friday, and the grapes looked wonderful, so I planned to harvest on the Monday morning. However, when we arrived to start picking, the grapes had been eaten. The wild boars were also suffering from the drought and they had, in their desperation, burrowed under the fence that protects the vineyard and slaked their thirst with the sweet grapes. As a result, my Chardonnay crop is 50% down on the norm,” laments Paolo.
Paolo was not the only producer in Tuscany to suffer from a dramatic drop in production. The region as a whole is down by 45% on the 2016 harvest, as was Sardinia. They suffered more than any other Italian region. The Veneto, which accounts for just over 20% of all Italian wine produced this year, was 20% down on 2016, while Puglia and Sicily, which combined comprise 28% of the 2017 harvest, were both 30% down. Piemonte was down by 25%.
Early tastings in the Veneto and Tuscany show decent quality. In some cases, the small berries have resulted in high levels of phenolics, which is especially the case with Pinot Grigio in the Veneto. Yields in the Veneto were also affected by the move from IGT to DOC delle Venezie for Pinot Grigio. The new law means lower yields (from 19 to 18 tonnes per hectare) and much lower extraction rates (from 80% to 70%) of must from grapes. The changes to the law and the low crop mean the price of Pinot Grigio is rising.
As usual in a vintage like this, it is vital to be working with growers rather than bottlers. There is little wine on the bulk market, and the co-operatives, who control over 60% of Italy’s production, are reserving the majority of what they’ve produced for their own customers.
2018 promises to be an interesting year for Italian wines. The outstanding 2015 Tuscan IGT wines (including Cepparello, Flaccianello and Fontalloro) will be released, as will the 2014 Barolo. Given it is the smallest crop in 70 years, pressure on prices is evident in every Italian region. This will be felt particularly in wines retailing between £7 and £10 a bottle, the effect of which in 2018 will be an increase in the average selling price of Italian wines.”
Photos: The 2017 vintage at Allegrini in the Veneto