As Harvest 2000 enters its final sprint, winemakers at Castello Banfi are honing their assessments with the newly-made white wines and still-fermenting reds. "It was a high-pressure vintage," observed Cristina Mariani, family proprietor of the Montalcino estate. "Conditions were superb going into the first week of August, with beautiful grape condition and quantity. Then Mother Nature turned up the heat!" Temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the later half of August accelerated the photosynthetic process of maturity. Harvest crews scrambled to bring in the rapidly maturing grapes in record time. Ms. Mariani described perfect bunches of grapes that were literally sunburned on their exposed side while in perfect condition on the side facing the vine. "It took keen organization to get the grapes in before we were dealing with raisins," she said. "Our crews did an outstanding job, working quickly and efficiently in some brutal late-summer heat." While the grapes bore deep color, Ms. Mariani reported that the winemakers were challenged to extract that color which was actually baked into the skin by the strong sunshine, particularly for Sangiovese Brunello. Syrah was the grape variety that responded best to the warm conditions, according to Ms. Mariani. "The Syrahs are showing excellent color and tannins, good alcohol content, and a typical spicy bouquet with full and generous flavor," she said. "In addition, Cabernet Sauvignon was also able to express power, structure, color and elegance. We are also very pleased with the Merlot's concentration, deep and mature aromas, and intense color." "Among the white wines, Pinot Grigio expressed itself the best under the torrid conditions, with slightly higher alcohol levels than usual, and excellent structure. Chardonnay, known to be resistant to difficult climactic conditions, also produced a wine of high quality though not as overall refined as usual." The more delicate Sauvignon Blanc, she concluded, lost much of its typical aroma and finesse. "Now we must make the strategic choices for blending and aging that will highlight the strength of each wine," Ms. Mariani said. "Only time will tell how they will compare to the elegance and refinement of their older siblings, the outstanding vintages of the late 1990s."