As harvest 2001 wraps up in Montalcino, winemakers at Castello Banfi are happily comparing the vintage to the stellar 1997 growing season. Despite a severe spring frost, ideal weather conditions throughout the summer allowed for perfect maturation of the grapes. The clusters relished the hot days and cool, breezy nights. The white grapes in particular developed excellent fruit character with optimal balance between the sugar content and prospective alcohol levels. A cool September with little rainfall helped produce excellent results for the red varieties as well. Harvest of white grapes at Castello Banfi started on August 14th this year, the earliest in the estate's history, and lasted into the beginning of September. Picking of the red grapes proceeded gradually throughout the month of September until early October. Harvest workers began as early as four o'clock in the morning to preserve the freshness and fruit character of the grapes. A severe frost on the eve of Easter Sunday threatened to decimate vineyards throughout the entire Montalcino wine region and much of Tuscany, but within three weeks Castello Banfi reported that the damage was not as drastic as originally thought. "The low lying vineyards planted with early budding varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio suffered more frost than the hillside vineyards planted with mostly red grapes, including the area's prestigious Brunello," said Castello Banfi family proprietor Cristina Mariani. "As it turned out, the frost actually functioned as a natural pruning device lowering the yield yet ultimately contributing to grape quality at harvest time." According to Ms. Mariani, good results are also due to responsive techniques for the weather conditions. Vineyard managers train the vines so that leaf coverage protects the grapes from strong sunshine, while in the winery, low-temperature fermentation helps preserve fruit character. "These techniques," she said, "along with strategic choices in blending and aging contribute to the consistent elegance of the estate's wines in outstanding vintage years as well as in the more challenging ones."