Despite some hail that occurred mid-summer and some heavy rains in early fall, the overall quality of the Italian fine wine grape harvest is expected to be very good to excellent this year (and even extraordinary in certain areas).
In early September when it published its first assessments of the 2016 vintage, Assenologi — the Italian association of eno-technicians (i.e., agronomists, enologists, winemakers, etc.) — had already predicted that the harvest would be good to great in most areas, with a slight reduction in overall quantity but not quality.
Southern Italy in particular was afflicted by heavy rains in September that had a severe impact on vineyards.
When vineyards are affected by rainfall so late in the growing season, a number of issues can arise.
The biggest problems is the rot and mildew (fungal vine diseases) that are caused by the excess humidity. Once those problems begin to set in so late in the vegetative cycle, when the grapes are almost fully ripe, there’s not a lot a winemaker can do but make a careful selection (“sorting”) in the vineyards and in the cellar, choosing only the healthiest bunches for vinfication and reducing yields signficantly.
The other big issue is the so-called “vigor” of the plants. Fine wine grape vines need to be “stressed” to produce the best and ripest fruit. It’s kind of like how a muscle grows stronger after exercise. The more stressed the plant, the more vigor it has. Consequently, the fruit will be more ripe. If the plants get too much water late in the growing cycle, they tend to shut down and the berries (i.e., the grapes) can actually shrink.
While southern Italy experienced significant precipitation and even some flooding in September, Tuscany (in Central Italy) and Piedmont (in Northwestern Italy) were largely spared any major weather events.
In Friuli (in Northeastern Italy), where they have seen drastic reductions in yield in recent years because of extreme weather, growers are expecting a bumper crop with significantly higher yields.