Sep 26

The 2012 vintage in Emilia Romagna: the situation in the various areas

Tag: Regionensigi.hiss @ 14:26

The white grapes are already being vinified, whereas the harvest for the reds is just starting. The rain over the last few weeks has finally given some moisture to the vines and there are now ideal temperatures for ripening the grapes completely.

The anticyclone that has brought the sunshine back to the vineyards of Italy is called Bacchus, like the god of wine and of the harvest. After the rains that brought a little relief to vines exhausted by the record-breaking temperatures of this summer, growers are returning to their vineyards to begin picking Lambrusco Salamino and the red grape varieties of the area around Piacenza in Emilia and to carry on with harvesting Albana and Sangiovese in Romagna. The hope is that significant differences between day- and night-time temperatures will allow the grapes to ripen fully, because in many zones the vines are considerably stressed following the seven anticyclones that – from June to early September -frequently took thermometers over 35°C (95°F), with less than 50 mm (2 in.) of rainfall.


Early and variable ripening

This state of affairs led on the one hand to precociousness and on the other to great variability in the ripening of the grapes. In Romagna, the harvest for the early-ripening varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco began on 13th August, 10 days earlier than usual, while in Emilia the first bunches were picked on the 20th, up to a month earlier than the norm. Variations in the periods when the grapes are ripening are notable, not only depending on the grape variety but also on the zone in which the vineyard lies. So, in Romagna, certain vineyards of Sangiovese are now already ready for harvesting, others will ripen at the normal time (around 20th September), and in others picking will only take place somewhat later (if ripening can indeed be completed, because of the rainfall in September). The situation for Albana is similar, whereas the harvest for Trebbiano which demonstrates more regular ripening – will begin in a few days’ time.

There is a similar situation in Emilia. Harvesting of Chardonnay and Sauvignon began in mid-August, Pignoletto has now all been picked and growers have just set to work on their vineyards of Ancellotta and Lambrusco. The earliness of the harvest – about ten days beforehand compared to the average of the last few years – is even more remarkable if judged alongside those of the 1970s, which began for the various cultivars around a month later than they do today.

Quantity is down by up to 50%, but quality is high in many zones

2012 will be remembered as the lowest-yielding vintage in the last 50 years, with the exception of 2003. “The 2012 vintage is paying the price for the frosts of last winter and the drought of the last few months, but it is also part of a more general trend” comments Gian Alfonso Roda, President of the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna. “From 1996 to 2011 production has been falling throughout Italy, partly as a result of the incentives for grubbing up vineyards: in some Regions the current figure is almost half that of 15 years ago. In this period production in Emilia Romagna has diminished by 18% but at the same time our Region has gained a 14% share of Italy’s overall total, overtaking Sicily and taking up second place for production after the Veneto. One can estimate the production for 2012 at around 6,130,000 hl, 5% down on 2011, resulting from considerable losses of product in certain areas of Emilia and the substantially stable production we expect in Romagna.”

If, from the point of view of quality, the very dry conditions everywhere almost completely cancelled out the problems of parasites and rot, resulting in healthy grapes with high sugar levels, what really made the difference was the possibility to carry out appropriate emergency irrigation. Where this was done, the vines did not show any signs of suffering stress from lack of water, whereas those cultivated without this type of intervention – especially in hillside vineyards – present, apart from a decrease in quantity, also some uncertainty as to their quality, reflecting a more generalized concern throughout Italy’s wine production areas.

The situation in the various areas of the Region

In Emilia, the area that witnessed the greatest fall in yields because of the drought during the summer was that of the Colli Bolognesi, as the President of the Producers’ Consortium, Francesco Cavazza Isolani, recounts: “This was a summer of great hardship for the vines. The wineries are reporting drops in quantity of between 30 and 50% and some companies were not able to pick grapes this year that were suitable for making into sparkling wine. The lack of water created enormous problems for the ripening of the bunches. On the other hand, the grapes were healthy and the balance between sugar content and acidity was good. The rainfall at the beginning of September brought some relief to the vineyards and alleviated our concerns about the red grape varieties, which we are starting to pick just now”.

 “In the zone around Piacenza, too, recourse to emergency irrigation was virtually non-existent, but the vines reacted better to the great heat” comments Roberto Miravalle, President of the Consortium for the Colli Piacentini. “Naturally the grape varieties that suffered most were the early-ripening ones, which registered a drop in production of 15%. Barbera and Bonarda, on the other hand, were able to benefit from the recent rains, which contributed towards restoring the necessary moisture in the grapes. Over the next few days each individual producer will decide which of these two varieties should be picked first in each of the four valleys of the Piacenza area. As far as quality is concerned, the situation is rather heterogeneous. The sugar content is high everywhere, whereas the acidity varies from vineyard to vineyard”.

The Colli di Parma, on the other hand, suffered considerably, as the Vice-President of the Consortium, Marcello Ceci, underlines: “This year the quantity we harvested is 40% down on last year. In many vineyards the yields were around 7 tonnes per hectare, almost half of what is normal. We have now finished picking the white grapes such as Sauvignon and Malvasia (the latter coped less well with the extraordinary climatic conditions of this summer than the other varieties). The situation seems to be better for the red grapes, which were able to take advantage of the recent rainfall in order to complete their ripening”.

In the area of Reggio Emilia, the 2012 vintage combines scarcity with very good quality. “In our area the grapes are exceptionally healthy and the level of quality is very high” declares Davide Frascari, President of the Consorzio Marchio Storico dei Vini Reggiani and of the Consorzio Emilia I.G.T.. “There certainly was a drop in yields, especially for the white varieties like Malvasia and Spergola (-12.3%), as well as for Ancellotta (-13%), which suffered damage both because of spring frosts and the tremendously hot, dry summer. Lambrusco reacted well, producing a visible layer of bloom on the grapes, which contributed towards limiting the reduction in production to 10%”.

There was a similar situation in the Modena area, where there will be a predicted shortfall of 5-10% but also excellent quality in spite of the high summer temperatures, as Ermi Bagni, Director of the Consorzio Marchio Storico dei Lambruschi Modenesi explains: “Up to now the Lambrusco grapes are displaying an ideal balance of components for obtaining fruity wines that are rich in fragrance. The rains of last week contributed towards establishing marked differences between day- and night-time temperatures, vital for the positive completion of the ripening process”.

In Romagna, too, drought caused problems for ripening but there is no forecast of a drop in overall production. “The 2012 vintage is characterized by fairly high sugar levels and by grape/wine yields that are lower than average, with some critical situations in hilly zones because of problems of lack of water (depending on the type of soil).” States Giordano Zinzani, President of the Consorzio Vini di Romagna: “The rainfall was a real blessing and the grapes display good concentration and intense colour. However, it’s still a little early to make any precise forecasts about the quality of the wine”.

As regards the area of Ferrara, the President of the Producers’ Consortium for the Wines of the Bosco Eliceo D.O.C., Sante Baldini, is optimistic, though he does confirm that there has been a reduction in the quantities harvested: “In the Ferrara area we reckon that the shortfall will be between 20 and 40%, depending on the grape variety, but the quality and sugar levels are generally good. In our region, 45% of the grapes have already been picked. Harvesting began on 20th August with the Sauvignon grapes and now nearly all the wineries are finishing picking their Merlot. In our zone, the variety that suffered worst as a result of the drought and heat was Trebbiano. As for Fortana, which we start to harvest in the last ten days of September, much will depend on the weather conditions in the next few weeks”.

The market: international demand continues to grow

Demand abroad continues to increase, whereas consumption per capita in Italy is plummeting, with forecasts for 2012 of around 40 litres a year (it was 45 five years ago). These two parallel trends, together with EU policies designed to favour promotion outside the Union, have led to exports overtaking sales on the home market: 60% of Italian wine is sold outside the country, for a total value of 4.4 billion Euros[1]. The share going to North America has become consolidated at 27%, due to the recovery of the U.S. market; the Far East continues to grow, in particular thanks to China; the dynamism of the Brazilian market has contributed to the share absorbed by South America being doubled: it now accounts for 2%.

“In this context,” comments Gian Alfonso Roda, President of the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna, “our Region continues to distinguish itself with higher than average growth, thanks to the entrepreneurial capacities of our producers and the activity of support, promotion and coordination carried out by the Enoteca Regionale. In 2011 Emilia Romagna exported 307 million Euros’ worth of wine, with an increase of 15.8% compared to the previous year (Italian exports grew in the same period by 12.4%). This figure is even more significant if one considers that the percentage increase in terms of value is greater than that in volume, underlining on the one hand an increase in the quality of wine from Emilia Romagna that is present on international markets and, on the other, a reduction in sales of bulk wine in favour of that in bottle.”

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