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2003 17 October

HARVEST 2003

 (Montalcino, Italy– October 2003) One  of the most severe heat waves in European history brought grape pickers  early to the rolling hills of the Castello Banfi vineyard estate in  Montalcino, Tuscany, with the start of  the annual harvest here on August 11.     

 

The range of grape varieties grown  at this noted property in the famed Brunello zone of southern  Tuscanyhas always meant that  it gets an earlier start than its neighbors, according to Castello Banfi family  proprietor Cristina  Mariani-May, but the entire process seems to  be moving away from its autumnal traditions and becoming a rite of  summer.

 

“We have always started our harvest  with a few people working in bathing suits,” noted Ms. Mariani-May, “but  traditionally we were closer to the end of August than its beginning.  Now  we’re at the point of interrupting summer vacations to come pick!” 

 

The heat wave broke in early September,  giving both the workers and the grapes much needed relief.  Most  importantly, normal patterns of significant variations between daytime  and night temperatures returned, adding finesse and complexity to this very good  vintage.

 

The first  grape variety harvested at Castello Banfi is Sauvignon Blanc, used to produce  the single-vineyard, barrel-fermentedSerena.  A  week later the harvest moved on to Pinot Grigio to produce the rich and  complexSan  Angeloas well as the crisp, cleanLe Rime, a quaffable Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay blend that is fermented in stainless steel  and released within months of harvest.  The estate’s Chardonnay was also  harvested in the third week of August this year to produce a barrique-aged wine  named for its vineyard source,Fontanelle.   The quality of the white wines is very good, fresh and  concentrated

 

Within weeks, the red  began coming in, starting with the precocious Merlot (Mandrielle) and  Syrah (Colvecchio) and  finishing up near the end of September with Cabernet Sauvignon (Tavernelle) and  Sangiovese, used to produce the Montalcino Super Tuscan winesCumLaude, SummuS,and ExcelsuSas well as  the region’s traditional and acclaimedCastello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino.  Castello Banfi produces three other versions of  Brunello: the cruPoggio alle Mura,a  single-vineyard RiservaPoggio all’Oro,and  an earlier releaseRosso di  Montalcino. 

 

Veraison, the stage  when the berries of the grapes used for making red wine varieties turn from green to purple, took place about two weeks  earlier than usual this year,  according to Ms. Mariani-May.  Because spring frosts naturally reduced the  overall crop by about 10%, this summer’s heat produced more concentrated fruit  that will yield especially flavorful wines with power and elegance. 

 

Despite the unusually  torrid season, berry size is only slightly smaller than usual, she said, thanks  in part to relief irrigation for many of the varieties as well as abundant rainfall over the  winter and spring.  While DOCG production stipulates that  water cannot be applied to Sangiovese being grown for the production of Brunello  di Montalcino, Ms. Mariani-May points out that Castello Banfi has been working  for the past 25 years both to develop vine clones that thrive under these otherwise adverse conditions, and to single out vineyard sites with soil types  that retain and gradually release the moisture from winter and spring  rainfall.

 

“The grapes are in  excellent condition,” she reported. “We can't control the weather,  of course, but we can prepare for the best way to deal with whatever Mother  Nature throws at us!"

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