The Importance of the Grape Harvest?

In the last few days I have received a lot of news from Bordeaux, and it appears that the 2010 grape harvest there will be qualitatively superior to that of 2009, just now celebrated with a sale of en primeur certificates which saw certain wines reach price peaks that were unimaginable up until very recently. In Italy, the 2010 grape harvest is winding to a close. For the gathering of grape varieties that mature relatively late, a group that includes the Nebbiolo, these are the days of truth, which will tell us what we can expect from this year’s harvest.

Already for some time now Italian critics have been passing down judgments on the quality of the harvest, naturally highlighting ups and downs region by region. There is however a certain factor to keep in mind, which is of fundamental importance: the producer. This might seem to be a banal affirmation, but is in fact essential to understand that information relative to the quality of a harvest should always be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak, and carefully examined.

It is true that the climatic developments of the months that precede the harvest in great part determine the outcome of the gathered grapes. But it is similarly important to delve into the details and go to see the work that the producer has done in the vineyards and the choices that have been made, especially in the final weeks before harvesting. I will give you an example from the 2010 harvest, not a very simple one, which will help to clarify this point. We will take the example of the Langa, and more specifically the Rivetto winery. A few days ago I visited the vineyards with Enrico during the gathering of the grapes, and I noted that the choices that he made for the cultivation of these grapes have shaped the present situation in a way that is completely different with respect to his colleagues. Even today, when the other wine producers have already completed their harvests, Enrico still has some grapes on the Nebbiolo da Barolo vines to be taken to the wine making cellar.  Despite the risk of inclement weather, he has taken this chance in order to bring these grapes to their best stage of maturation, accepting the possibility that rains could send it all to the winds. This is the challenge of anyone who tries his hand at a princely grape variety such as the Nebbiolo, which is on par with Pinot Noir. It is not a coincidence that Aubert de Villaine, director of the legendary Domaine de la Romanée Conti, always applied this very same philosophy of procrastinating the grape harvest for as long as possible: “if this is the risk involved in producing a great wine, it is a risk that I am willing to take”. And so it is clear that in this case the choices made by Enrico will result in a wine that is very different with respect to another producer’s wine from the same zone and the same year. And with this all of the generalized pronouncements on a particular year go down the tubes.

Another example that I will offer you is that of Roberto Voerzio who, as a consequence of his radical approach to thinning the vines, is always the first in Langa to bring his grapes to the wine making cellar, even three weeks before his colleagues. In this case, too, the wines will reflect the developments of the year as much as the choices made by the producer.

And so what does this all mean? It means that it is good to listen to the news about the more or less marked quality of the grape harvest of a particular year, but that this information should not be taken as absolute truth, since thankfully there are some excellent wine producers who know how to make the choices that in the end make all the difference.