Every year as the harvest period approaches, operators and wine lovers try to understand what it will be like, to define their business strategies for the former or to imagine what the wines they will find in bottles from the following year will be like for the latter.
Even 2023 is no exception to this rule / tradition and the forecasts for the 2023 harvest began as early as mid-August, when the harvest began in Sicily, Piedmont and Franciacorta for the grapes from which the sparkling wine bases will be produced, therefore which require a marked acidity.
If the Nobel Prize winner for physics Nils Bohr said “It is difficult to make predictions, especially for the future”, let’s imagine how difficult it is for an event subject to meteorological trends such as the grape harvest where rain or sun in the few days preceding the harvest can make a huge difference on the quantity and, above all, quality of the grapes (not to mention the hail…).
To extricate ourselves from this uncertainty inherent to harvest forecasts, we have chosen to analyze all those published to date, both at a local and national level, integrating them with the measures taken by the institutions relating to the harvest and some opinions collected from agronomists and oenologists working directly in the field.
We hope in this way to be able to provide a reliable picture of what the 2023 vintage will be like in Italy.
Production decline at national level (and it’s good news).
Coldiretti’s estimates made at the beginning of the harvest (mid-August) spoke of a production drop of -14%. More recently Valoritalia hypothesizes a range between -15% and -20%, with wine production in 2023 which could be between 40 and 43 million hl. Most recent forecast by Assoenologi (Italian Wine Makers Association) and Unione Italiana Vini (the main Italian wine producers association) indicate a decrease of -12%, to 43 million hl.
This would be one of the lowest harvests of the last century. Contrary to what we are used to thinking, this is good news because between the high production of 2022 and the stagnation of demand in the first half of 2023, the stocks in Italian cellars currently roughly correspond to an entire harvest.
We agree with UIV and Marchesi de Frescobaldi President, Lamberto Frescobaldi, that the structural problem is the lack of demand, but we believe that while structural solutions are sought, cyclical ones can also help…
Return to the vintage calendar of the past.
The 2023 vintage was characterized by a mild and dry winter and an extremely rainy spring, especially in the months of May and June, which favored downy mildew attacks even in the areas of central and southern Italy, normally less, if any, affected by this vine disease.
These climatic conditions caused a delay in flowering between 5 and 10 days, a delay which was then transmitted into the subsequent vegetative phases.
The subsequent summer heat waves have often reached temperatures higher than those in which the vine stops vegetative activity to protect itself from stress.
The result of the climatic trend was a return to the “once upon a time” harvest dates, with the majority of the grapes being harvested between 15 September and the end of October.
Each area has its own story.
Characteristic of Italian wine is the great variety and heterogeneity of our production, which is obtained in different pedoclimatic situations from Valtellina to Pantelleria, using a very large number of native vines.
It follows that the harvest situation is also extremely varied along the peninsula. Even more so in a year like this, which brought about differences even between the vineyards of the same estate according to exposure, ventilation, etc…
For macro areas, production growth is estimated between +5% and +10% in Veneto and Lombardy, where there is greater experience in combating downy mildew, stable in Piedmont, where, however, drought could lead to grapes with a lower yield in the cellar, and down by -5% – 10% in the centre-south.
The most significant reductions would be in Romagna, with production falling by -30% – 40% due to the damage caused by last May’s flood, Puglia and Sicily, with drops of around 35% due to downy mildew attacks.
Organic is particularly affected.
Compared to the values indicated above, the decline in yields of vineyards conducted in organic farming is significantly worse. Production losses are estimated ranging from -15%, in the best situations, to -50%, -70% in the most affected areas.
This is due to the fact that the main means of defense against downy mildew in organic vineyards is represented by copper compounds, which act through leaf contact. The intensity and frequency of rainfall in the months of May to June caused both the run-off of the treatments and the impossibility of entering the vineyard promptly to carry out the treatments due to the mud.
Grapes with lower acidity and lower sugar content (i.e. less alcohol)
The seasonal trend of 2023 is leading to grapes with a lower level of both acidity and sugar, from whose fermentation the alcohol content derives. Precisely for this reason the Veneto Region has allowed the use of grapes with a natural alcoholic strength 0,5 degree lower than the current specifications for the production of the DOC Prosecco, delle Venezie, Venezia, Vicenza and Arcole.
Typically grapes that technicians define as lower quality, but this is not necessarily the case when looking at the market. Grapes with these characteristics in fact give rise to wines that are less long-lived, but tend to be more harmonious from an aromatic point of view and with a lower alcohol content. An organoleptic profile in line with the requests of an ever-increasing number of consumers.