Hot vintages, fresh vintages
Our past three vintages in Sicily have been incredibly hot, the 2017 in particular. We have had many days above 100F and, in some occasions, daytime temperatures have risen above 120F, along with muggy nights and continued draught. Many ask: is it possible to make wine in these conditions? And, how can you describe wines made in hot vintages?
Hot summers are quite common in Sicily. We are generally used to hot weather, but such extreme conditions in the past years really put a strain on the vineyards’ (and the winemaker’s) resistance. The happy part is, they offered me a greater awareness of what it does mean to make wine in all kinds of edgy situations that belong to the so-called arid, heroic viticulture.
Those who are not used to drink wines from Southern Italy - and therefore know them very little - often consider them (let me say, with superficiality) tired flabby wines that lack complexity and freshness, and therefore are not pleasant. I have a different opinion: as it is the case with all the best things in life, it is always good to have an open mind, and bright curiosity, when it comes to wine. This is the only way to broaden your horizons in order to appreciate the unique characteristics of each wine region, and to enjoy the most obscure wines and grape varieties that are not represented at all in the typical Italian wine list.
Just to give you an example that there can be beauty and balance in many wines made in hot climates and hot vintages, here is the comment of Mario Gelfi, amazing wine professional and enthusiast who manages one of the most dynamic Italian winelovers’ community:
"During our last wine class for neophytes, your Bambina 2016 was in the lineup. I had not yet had the chance to taste it. From the moment I poured your wine, it was a true flash of inspiration. A rare beauty, like few Italian rosés I have had before.
It is Sicily squeezed in a glass, warm and salty, always in balance between its wonders and contradictions. A moment before it is as wild as a glimpse through the most hidden corners of the island, a moment later it is as elegant as the beautiful neighborhoods of Palermo, places that Paris can only be envious of!
I know that this wine is very special for you, and also that it is the product of a hot vintage. It may not have the personality of Bambina I have learnt to know in the past, but I am thrilled to understand that this specific vintage was shaped by the force of nature. I just wanted to tell you, and congratulate you for this little great masterpiece. "
Hot vintages teach you many things: first, they teach you not to focus on one aspect at a time, but to consider the phenolic picture as a whole, and to follow the grapes’ evolution on a daily basis. In a hot vintage you cannot neglect the vineyard not even one day, because the bunches’ conditions (turgidity, acidity, aromatic concentration) can dramatically change in hours.
In a hot vintage, it is not about what you WANT, but it is about what you CAN do based on what the vines are able to give, and on how they are able to react to extreme weather conditions and to continuous water stress.
Because it’s not about you, not about your oenological objectives or aspirations, nor about any of the goals you have set over the years working in the vineyard and at the winery. It is all about the vineyard. If you will listen to the vines, and eventually to the grapes, they will tell you what they are able to give you every year, in fresh vintages and hot vintages. The grapes will tell you the wine they want to become, the wine that they were born to be.
You just need to be patient enough, and humble enough, and to work on yourself enough to develop the sensitivity you need to step back and do what the vineyard wants from you.
In the end, this is the meaning of being a farmer, and a vintner: the Earth keeper, and caretaker. The one who knows how to translate the voice of the Earth into words that whoever wants to listen can understand.