*unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case you should keep those sleeves down! I’ve heard it said that the only thing Bordeaux
winemakers can do in August is pray. Pray that nothing goes wrong, no disease, rain or hail. It seems they now have to do a bit more than that. All across the vine-growing regions of the northern hemisphere, the harvest is in full swing. In some cases it is a full month earlier than it was for the grandparents of this generation. In Chateau Thieuley
in Bordeaux, the harvest started this year on the 18th of August, the earliest in their history. The other thing winemakers did in August traditionally was go on holiday as there was little to do in the vineyard, and you had plenty of time to pray on the beach! Marie Courselle of Chateau Thieuley, along with many of their vineyard workers, had to cut short her holiday this year to get back to harvest, and her sister Sylvie predicts the August harvest will be the norm.
Sunrise over Chateau Thieuley. Photo provided by Sylive Courselle
Global warming is most evident among farmers, who are the mercy of nature. Late frost this year also contributed to the early ripening of grapes, as the yield was reduced so the remaining crop ripened faster. Having the grapes ripen early can pose problems for the overall ripeness of the grapes, not just having adequate sugar levels, but Sylvie is happy with the quality of their grapes, their clayey soil being a help in retaining moisture during the very hot, dry summer. This is very important to maintain good acidity, vital for balance and longevity in the whites. Another challenge is that it is still hot at night, and even though they start to pick at 3 am, keeping the cellar cool during the maceration process is a challenge.
In Umbria, Roberto di Filippo
uses a sartorial story to show the difference in harvesting times- 35 years ago he would start the harvest in a tee shirt and finish in a sweatshirt- this year he will start and finish in a tee shirt. They also had a hot, dry summer, but were saved by a few days rain in August which fattened up the berries and gave a better juice to skin ratio. Usually, rain in August can be a problem as it swells the grapes too much and dilutes the juice, but it was much needed this year. Roberto will do two harvests, one early to make the most of the acidity and citrus aromas in the younger grapes, then another when the grapes have developed more apricot, peach and banana flavours, thus arriving at the balance and complexity he wants in the wine. The harvest in Romania is going very well, and though also early, the growing season has been excellent and he his happy with the quality of the grapes. The soil in La Sapata
is sandy/limestone, and doesn’t suffer as much from the drought as his soil in Umbria. Conversely, down in Sicily, the harvest is late. Assia Giolli, winemaker at Cantina Marilina
with owner Angelo Paterno, explained that as there was rain in August which is very unusual, they had to wait for about 10 days to harvest as the balance had been changed by too much water. Unlike Roberto’s experience in Umbria, they didn’t need that extra juice. Early harvesting is very important as they want to keep the alcohol low in such a hot climate. They are very happy with their harvest so far, having totally healthy grapes which is crucial to allow longer maceration.
According to Roberto Di Filippo, he must be a good farmer first and a good winemaker second. All of these vignerons must be ready to act with whatever circumstances nature throws at them, and to use their instincts, skills and experience to make great wine in challenging circumstances. They must adapt to the changing climate while preserving the integrity of their individual wine styles, naturally, working with nature, not artificially modifying the result.