A long harvest at Val d’Orcia
A yellow color is in the air in the Val d’Orcia, and the days have become solemn: autumn! Ripeness is entering the grapes; wine is made from fruit when it has changed it’s taste a few times at the very end of its course; every year at this time I start walking the vineyards to taste the merlot, which ripens before the other grapes. Each year is different and it will take me a few days to understand where we are. I think that after tomorrow we will be already deciding to pick a few parcels, three or four.
Dry soils could have wrinkled the grapes’ skin after this summer’s African heat, but it rained hard during the 14th and 15th of September and on the 21st, while vines were very strong and absorbed it. We are picking large amounts of super super merlot, with small berries and strong skins, and it’s only just ripe, with nice low sugars and low acidity. I am continuing picking before the big flavors can kick in – a stylistic choice – this year, I want dark, solid-bodied wines. The moon is pulling a furious ripening tide, so juices were getting blacker in the test glasses even through the day, in the neon glow of the winery. At night we were still filling the pickups with cases, tripping in the hard dirt in the tractors headlights and in the cold wind.
They are hurriedly picking the last grapes in the frost under the moon which is running away. It’s freezing, but the merlot is finally done. All cases are filled with black and precious grapes like caviar. The whole merlot harvest, 45 tons, looks like the stuff that usually comes from the few very best parcels.
It’s windy and grey. The merlots have a youthful, empire-red hidden in their black juice; exceptionally thick skins that grew around the berries against the blaize of July made us work furiously over the tanks, to plunge and extract; the earliest vats have already fermented for ten days. In them, wines are gathering layers of complexity because of the young matter on which the juices rest, and they ooze fatness; other vats filled with pickings of just 2-3 days later are sweet, fruity, and bottomless. That’s how fast the ripening was advancing while we were picking, ten days ago: We will have two different styles of merlot, split at about the middle of the pickings.
Now, there’s the usual wait for cabernet franc, does it seem longer this year? A week ago, Trinoro had became dry and dusty again, some liquid in the grapes evaporated. Afterwards it started raining for a few days, light at first and interrupted, starting again and stronger, and at the end violent and whipping; with it came warmth. Against the building mold, we sprayed the grapes with propolis and sand, the high tractors advancing in the mud and rain, then finally the triumphant return of the sun. Now the weather is mild and the grapes are still strong-skinned, they are very active and changing in taste, so I continue to wait.
All day we harvested continuously with lots of fast pickers and brought in 17 tons of super and different tasting cabernet francs, just in time, before a forecast that says we’ll get killed by three days of rain. With what I have in the cellar already, I could make a good Tenuta di Trinoro and two great single-vineyard cabernet franc wines. I have chosen to leave the grapes hanging in the Camagi vineyard – they are in very good shape and will make it through the rains, and the vineyard is on the mountain where I trust the wind to blow dry and cold at night.
On the 16th, after the rains, there was a violent rush of maturity in the grapes. One could see the pH of the cabernet franc of Camagi climb from 3.6 to 4.26 in one afternoon, the highest jump I have ever seen. The remote desert heat of this summer is reminding me again how it burned, in case I am forgetting; distracted by, trying to adhere to the changing imagery of the weather, you have to look at each vintage backward and forward, like at the very long and winding mystery that it is. We will harvest all of the remaining franc tomorrow, as well as some of the cabernet sauvignon. I sprayed the rest of the sauvignon with wax, and hopefully it will hang until later harvesting, perhaps around the 24th together with the petit verdot that grows on the mountain?
After the weather turned cold and windy, we had a good number of people come and pick what slowly became beaming, spear-like fruit. Now we have the royal, sharp, and ripe cabernet sauvignon and some peculiar, intense petit verdot. They could make a third wine all by themselves, but will instead blend with the character of this year’s dark, detailed merlots and francs.
I have tasted all the wines, and we have a measured, elegant vintage, full of the sincere and complex givings of fruit that is true to this vintage. The cabernet franc that was picked before the 13th is attractive, with dark fruit and freshness, while that picked afterwards is bottomless. It’s difficult to have a wine that is together ripe yet detailed and lithe like this one is. All together, looking back, this was a vintage of extreme energy in the plants: heat and drought happened when they were growing and greening, then there was the downpour that drenched them, but the plants absorbed the water easily, sacrificing half of their leaf system in a late collapse and going on to using water to progress. They kept their fruit intact long enough to reach harvest and later to design a complicated and delicious wine. There won’t be the size and alcohol that a hot August produces. I am happy because I got every move right and took advantage of each of the rains. One could die after a vintage like this one!
Yesterday night, the game was over. It was evening, and standing in the middle of the field I suddenly SAW nature acting, it came to me without any reasoning, and then I lost it when I tried to think it over.
Italian version: vendimmia lunga in Val d’Orcia