Cristina Mariani-May, family proprietor of the renowned Castello Banfi vineyard estate in Montalcino, Tuscany, and her team of winemakers are preparing for one of their most challenging Brunello harvests in years. “Variations in weather conditions over the past month have given us conditions that we did not expect earlier in the season,” said Ms. Mariani-May. “The recent brief but severe heat wave will reduce our yield and require care and attention both in the vineyards and the winery. The research and development behind our hallmark ‘pursuit of excellence’ puts us in a position to take these adverse conditions and maintain high standards for our estate’s Brunello di Montalcino and super Tuscans.”
According to Ms. Mariani-May, the 2011 season started late with a cool spring and abundant rainfall. Lower than average temperatures persisted through July, but in mid-August the effects of an anti-cyclone above the African continent drove temperatures well over the 100 degree Fahrenheit mark through early September. The vines had sufficient water reserves to avoid hydric stress, but in vineyards where mature grapes were exposed, strong sun literally gave the fruit a bad case of sunburn.
She pointed out that conditions were dramatically different from the consistently hot 2003 and consistently cool 2002, likening the current conditions more to the 2000 harvest, which similarly started cooler than usual and was marked by a brief but severe heat wave in August.
“We concluded harvesting white grapes last week with a sudden 30% to 40% reduction in yield,” she said. “This week we’ve started to harvest Merlot and Syrah; hand picking has been key, and will be even more vital when we begin harvesting the more sensitive Sangiovese over the coming weeks. While we are seeing overall good quality, we have to select the fruit very carefully in the vineyard, and then scrupulously inspect it again when it comes into the winery.” While most of Castello Banfi’s premier vineyards have been hand harvested since the estate was founded in 1978, in 2007 they added a “double triage” sorting of fruit at the winery that first inspects the bunches that come in to the winery and then selects the individual de-stemmed berries by both further visual inspection and weight density tests. The selected grapes from each vineyard are then vinified separately in individual fermenters, hybrids of stainless steel and oak that were developed and patented by Castello Banfi to take advantage of the best characteristics of both materials. Castello Banfi also led pioneering research in conjunction with the universities of Milan and Pisa to isolate a selection of superior clones of the native Sangiovese grape to produce consistently outstanding Brunello. “We would much rather have favorable conditions as we did in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2009,” Ms. Mariani-May declared, “but our decades of work have prepared us for the vagaries of nature and our dedicated team knows how to handle harvest conditions like this.”
The family-owned Castello Banfi vineyard estate and winery is the first in the world to be awarded international recognition for exceptional environmental, ethical and social responsibility (ISO 14001 and SA8000) as well as customer satisfaction (ISO 9001:2000). Castello Banfi was also declared “International Winery of the Year” an unprecedented four times and Italy’s “Premier Vineyard Estate” an unprecedented 12 times at the VinItaly wine fair in Verona, Italy. A medieval castle crowning the estate serves as a hospitality center for the region, housing the Taverna Banfi, and luxury rooms and suites in Il Borgo, as well as an enoteca and a museum tracing the history of glass as it relates to wine.