2017 - A vintage in the extreme
The wines of 2017 seem to possess the potential for greatness. This is the message emerging from the fermentation tanks and from our first, timid tastings. 2017 is a vintage which, due to extreme and exceptional climatic events throughout the year, has heavily challenged the operational and interpretative skills of the entire Avignonesi production team. Nothing went by the books.
From ice to fire: how biodynamics can help
Some of our vineyards were damaged by a 4-day spring frost which hit our area from April 19th - 22nd and led to an early reduction in yields. Yields were further reduced as the summer unfurled with long, hot, dry days. We only had 277 mm of rain from January to mid September, compared to 691 mm during the same period last year, and temperatures often reached 104°F, especially in August.
A positive effect of the extremely hot summer was the almost total absence of disease in the vineyards, which gave our vineyard team time to help the plants cope with the drought. We worked the soils often to prevent them from becoming too compact, and we sprayed the vines with nettle herb tea for a refreshing effect.
For the same reason our use of the biodynamic preparation 501 was reduced this year, as it is a catalyst for light, of which there was more than plenty this season. As the vines started out with low yields already at the beginning of the growing season, no green harvest or leaf thinning were necessary.
Virginie Saverys: “It has now been 7 years since we introduced biodynamics at Avignonesi, and we have had to deal with many different types of vintages since then: 2014 was cool and damp, 2015 perfect and regular, 2016 wet and hot and 2017 hot and dry, to name a few. It has been hard work converting an estate as big as Avignonesi, and it has taken a lot of planning, experimentation and discipline, but I can wholeheartedly say that it has been worth it. When we started applying the biodynamic preparations and treating the soils according to an organic and biodynamic regime, we saw an immediate change, especially in the soil quality. Furthermore, over the years I have observed an evolution (or is it rather a revolution?), not only of the vineyard, with its invigorated root system, a better microbiologic content in the soil and an enhanced biodiversity of flora and fauna, but also of the Avignonesi team itself. Biodynamics has led us to a more intuitive perception of our land and has helped us make the right interpretative choices in a challenging vintage like this one. How can I explain: we’ve spent much time laying a foundation which has now made our plants more resilient and reactive to climate challenges, but it has also given us the ability to work more freely, creatively – if you will – with the prime material which nature gives us.”
An anticipated harvest
Harvest started with a bang as the Chardonnay was ready for picking before August 10th and the Merlot followed shortly after. We picked our first Sangiovese on August 29th and concluded with the Cabernet Sauvignon during the last week of September, many of our top vineyards were hand picked. To aid the quality selection of the berries all vineyard lots went through our highly sophisticated optical grape sorting machines in the grape receiving area, before reaching the cellar.
Ashleigh Seymour, winemaker: “We’ve seen beautifully healthy fruit coming into the cellar throughout the harvest. The particular characteristic of this vintage is small, concentrated berries with ripe tannins and thick skins, which have led us to a cautious vinification approach with slightly gentler extraction techniques than usual to preserve the fresh, fruity flavours of the must. We like our wines to be elegant and well-balanced, and this year our main challenge is to manage the structure and concentration of which the grapes abound.”
Each harvest provides an opportunity for our vineyard and cellar crew to experiment and try out new equipment and vinification methods. This year we have acquired six 800-litre terracotta amphorae that we’re using for a very special terroir project.
Matteo Giustiniani, COO: “Over the last 7 years we have spent much time and energy in mapping our soils and selecting the vineyard plots that offer the most interesting expressions of our terroir. Grapes from the 6 best Sangiovese plots are currently fermenting in the amphorae, allowing us to make an unbiased, linear comparison between the wines from these plots. The goal is to learn more about our micro-terroirs and prepare a line of single vineyard Sangiovese wines to be released in the future.
On a side note, we have also produced two small amphorae named Celeste and Celestina with the clay from our own soil at I Poggetti estate. The main trait of the Avignonesi terroir is the vein of blue clay we call mattaione, and we would love it if all our amphorae could be produced exclusively with our own clay in the future. It would mean carrying the concept of terroir from the vineyards into the cellar in a completely new way.”
Towards 2018: a vintner never sleeps
Since harvest fell early this year, our vines can now benefit from a long autumn season to complete their vegetative cycle and gain strength after the summer heat and drought. Our vineyard crew is already busy working the soils and sowing cover crops for next year, and we have started applying our homemade compost and biodynamic preparation 500 (horn manure) to the vineyards, in order to aid the regeneration of the organic matter in the soil. Now we hope for a winter season with abundant rain to fill up the water reserves in the soil, and once again we will get ready to embrace a new growing season.