Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Some harvest notes from Katia of San Polino in Montalcino . . .

VENDEMMIA 2011 AT SAN POLINO

A couple of weeks before harvest a journalist who writes for the English wine specialist Jancis Robinson asked me how I thought this year’s harvest would be. I replied that my impressions were mixed. August and September were overly hot and dry, but that I believed that we should expect many surprises.

He entitled his article “Montalcino’s surprising 2011 vintage” and quoted my letters

(http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20110924.html )

But, indeed, the 2011 vintage certainly brought many unexpected results....

We have around 10 acres of vineyard, all 100% Sangiovese, from which we make the Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino and Sant’Antimo.

Most of our land is situated around our 500 year-old farmhouse where we live above a winery which we converted from the old stables after planting the vineyards in 1998/9.

We have a small, family-run winery which we farm organically/biodynamically. In the winery we like to say that our wines are just fermented grapes that have had nothing added and nothing subtracted. So we’re particularly sensitive to the characteristics of the grape clusters we bring in from the fields.

On a hot year like this you could expect to find small, concentrated grapes which would very likely produce wines with overly high alcohol and low acidity levels. Yet a Brunello depends heavily on a high acidity to give its kick and longevity, so you can imagine that we were very anxious.

And here came our big surprise: we knew that the grapes were healthy but we had never seen them healthier and juicier, with gorgeous tannins and a great acidity. Even better than expected.

Perhaps because we had left enough grapes on the vines, so they didn’t concentrate too much, perhaps because we had managed the foliage in the canopy well this year, who knows, but we’re certainly not complaining.

Each morning of harvest you shoot out of bed at dawn filled with excitement. Its hard to describe a more exhilarating sensation. You have everything ready; the ripe grapes hanging on the vines, the empty vats, the pickers and the cutting scissors, and you just wait for the them all to get together.

We started harvest on an overcast but warm Sunday, September 25th. All our family and friends came to help gather in the first selection of best grapes from the fields in front of our house.

I cooked mammoth quantities of “penne con salsciccia e pomodoro” for lunch which we ate outside in the shade of the olive trees. The mood was happy and by that evening we had filled the first of our 35 hl slavonian oak vats.

What an emotion!

We stayed up working till around 1am washing out the picking crates, cleaning the de-stemming machine and pumping over the grapes in their juice. The marathon had started.

Over the following seven days we slept less and less while doing rigorous selections in all the fields; first passing through and picking the perfect clusters and only then the rest.

Each selection passes into its own vat, so we’ve ended up with ten different vats with ten different selections!

Fermentation started in the first vat around three days after it was filled, and slowly the other vats kicked in.

Of course we are not adding any artificial yeasts; we like the grapes to ferment on the yeasts that sit with them in the vineyard. It makes for more unique wines.

We now have our ten fermenting vats bubbling away under our bedroom. They range in alcohol content from 13.5% to 14.70%, the colour is intense and the aromas are good.

We have to get up at least three or four times in the night to check on them, to see that the temperatures haven’t rocketed or that no vat is overflowing.

Our youngest son just left for college and we’ve become “empty-nesters”. So the full vats are our new fledglings and while I miss him madly they help ease the way.

We’re now thinking about the 2012 harvest in San Polino. Does anybody want to come and do the nights?

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