This year’s European wine harvest could be the lowest in a decade, after a summer of storms and heatwaves. Estimates put the harvest down by 10-20%, and the picking season was early by 2-3 weeks in most regions of France and Italy. Usually, hot weather reduces the overall harvest tonnage, but produces fine wine by killing parasites and raising the grapes’ sugar – and therefore alcohol – content. Most vintners are optimistic but only time will tell.Wine growers in France are predicting a vintage year, Even though grapes are producing less juice for pressing, the taste is more intense than usual, experts say. French vineyards have not seen such hot weather, considered key to producing exceptional wines of rare aromas, rich body and deep color, in more than a half century. Many vintners throughout Europe say they’ve had the best conditions since the sweltering summer of 1947, a legendary year for wine. The heat has brought early ripening and fewer grapes.
Vineyards in southwest France had to scramble to find workers available in August, when many French people typically go on vacation. Last year, harvesting started on Sept. 10. In Bordeaux, where hopes are high for an exceptional year, a few vintners began gathering grapes in mid/late August, though the harvest generally begins in mid-September. At the Chateau Haut-Brion in Pessac, where workers started plucking white Sauvignon and Semillon grapes, one winemaker said the heat has produced a lush crop.
Italian meteorologists have described this summer as the nation’s hottest in more than 50 years. But experts say the dry spell hasn’t excessively hurt the grapes, and their early maturation is hardly bad news for vintners. The heat has banished mold and parasites from the vines and thickened the grapes’ skin, which gives wine its aromas and raises its sugar and alcoholic content, said Luigi Mainetti an official at Coldiretti, an Italian farmers’ association. Depending on the final crop, Italian wines to watch are Chianti, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. In Sicily, where stifling temperatures and early harvest are less of a surprise, some vintners switched to night-harvesting a few years ago, and the new tradition is lending itself well to this particularly sizzling summer.