2016: Quality over Quantity
2016: Quality over Quantity
Customized care and a superb September counter uninterrupted rains and havoc-wreaking hail
Dealing with Rain
We saw great amounts of rain in 2016. Budding was off to an early start thanks to two weeks of warm sunshine in late March, early April, but then the weather changed drastically and it rained 40 days out of 60, from 20th April to 20th June. The spring of 2016 was quite similar to that of 2014, but with the significant difference that this year it was followed by a typical Mediterranean summer with sunny days and warm temperatures. Overall, it has been a good vintage for quality, but a difficult year for quantity.
The cool, wet spring had a significant impact on production, as some vines had difficulty with fruit set. In particular, this influenced the early-ripening varietals such as Merlot.
The weather also gave us problems with downy mildew, which we kept at bay with copper sprays, though sometimes it was difficult for us to enter the vineyards with the appropriate machinery, as the soil was too wet and heavy. As a result, we suffered a further loss of quantity.
The Hard Choice
As the summer arrived and véraison started, we made a hard choice. We already knew that production numbers were down, but we wanted to do everything we could to help quality, so we performed a manual green harvest, combined with a careful thinning of foliage. This allowed the plants to focus on the few bunches that were left and bring them to complete and balanced ripeness.
Unfortunately, we also had to deal with a few violent hailstorms, which hit two of our most iconic vineyards, La Stella and La Tonda. In fact, these vineyards were so badly damaged that we had no grape production to speak of here.
Rainfall accompanied the summer heat, leaving no risk of drought and subsequent suffering of the plants in our area. In rainy years we are particularly grateful for the clayey soil typical to Montepulciano, which is able to absorb and subsequently nourish the roots of the vines with the right amount of moisture.
As often happens, the weather in September was determinant for the quality outcome of this vintage. Sunny days accompanied by healthy, northern winds and considerable temperature swings between day and night allowed our Sangiovese to ripen slowly and progressively. In fact, the picking season was stretched out nicely, leaving time for our crew to focus on one variety at a time, both in the vineyards and in the cellar.
2016 in the Words of our Crew
Alessio Gorini, chief agronomist: This vintage has been tough. We had a lot of manual work in the vineyards all through the year and the crew was exhausted, but it has all been worth it. I have seen some of the most perfectly ripened Sangiovese of my career, especially from our vineyard Poggio Badelle. It’s Sangiovese with no excess alcohol and with a beautiful, full colour and complex aromas. Even the tannins of the grape seeds are sweet and ripe. I am very satisfied.
Matteo Giustiniani, winemaker and chief operating officer: As the wines are fermenting in the cellar, I can confirm that our Sangiovese has elegance, a wide bouquet of varietal aromas and a good body. This year more than ever, we must be thankful that we have vineyards in eight different areas of Montepulciano, since the summer was characterized by violent but fortunately very localized rain and hailstorms. We have seen everything from vineyards completely destroyed by hail to vineyards in perfect conditions of growth, depending on where in Montepulciano we were. The fact that Avignonesi is used to harvesting and vinifying all vineyard plots separately, and that we have enough room in the cellar to keep all masses separate during fermentation and ageing has allowed us to work intelligently throughout the harvest, treating each mass in the appropriate manner.
Ashleigh Seymour, winemaker: It has been a pleasure to ferment the 2016 Sangiovese. No doubt that in people’s minds the 2015 harvest will stand out as one of the best in many years, but I actually see more balance in our Sangiovese this year, thanks to the long ripening period of the bunches, similar to that of certain classic vintages of the past. For the early ripening varieties, such as Merlot, we have continued our experiments with whole berry fermentation, which allows us to fully control the extraction process during fermentation, extracting only the sweet, mature tannins from the skins.
Virginie Saverys, owner: Many people have a romantic vision of what it means to harvest grapes. They associate manual harvest with quality and mechanical harvest with mass production. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth, and I like to explain this as often as I can. We have 180 hectares (450 acres) of vineyards to take care of, and over the years we have developed a work model aimed at high quality that combines the best of humans and the best of machines. We spend a lot of time in the vineyards, walking and observing. We use our eyes, ears and hands to peruse each of our vineyards and anticipate the needs and problems of the vines. In this we are truly artisanal. But when harvest time comes, our priority is to transfer what we have obtained in the vineyards to the cellar at the right moment and without contamination. Picking with state- of-the-art harvesting machines and using optical sorting technology in the grape-receiving area permits us to perform this task much better than by hand. Often the window for picking perfectly ripened grapes is narrow, and we have to move fast. The harvesters can work 24 hours a day, as can the optical sorters, and their level of attention and scrutiny never waivers. Nothing but healthy, ripe grapes goes into our fermentation tanks, and that is the only possible beginning of a great wine. Here’s to vintage 2016!
Avignonesi received its organic certification in spring 2016. During the summer, we started the process of obtaining biodynamic certification as well, through the international association Biodyvin. We launched our first organic wine this year, the 2015 Il Marzocco Chardonnay. As of 2016, all our other wines will follow, and bear the logo of the famous green “Euro-leaf” on the label.