(Montalcino, Italy – September 27, 2005) Mark Twain is said to have once observed that “We all grumble about the weather, but nothing is done about it.” He obviously never met the vineyardteam at Tuscany’s Castello Banfi.
Frequent and persistent rainfall soaked the region’s vineyards since mid-August, making for conditions that once left winemakers wringing their hands, pacing the floors and shaking their fists at the sky. At the very least the rainfall delayed the start of harvest and the long term forecast was not much better, but because Banfi – the Brunello zone’s leading producer of white wines as well – already had harvest crews assembled, they swung into action of another sort.
“Some years, like 2004, you are blessed with textbook growing conditions and arrive at the harvest in great shape,” said Cristina Mariani-May, family proprietor of Castello Banfi. “In 2005 we had good prospects in early summer, but the sunshine, heat and warmth didn’t stay with us long enough. When we realized by mid-August that we were in for damp, inclement weather for the rest of the season, it was vital to prepare the vines and get the most out of the remaining weeks.”
An intensive program of “canopy management” removed most of the leaves surrounding the grape bunches, considered protective in sunnier, hotter years but now blocking precious sunlight. An even more aggressive approach of “green harvesting” had crews removing and discarding any grape bunches that were too close or could rub against another – proximity could cause mold, and abrasions turn to rot.
“We had to put our advantages to work,” said Ms. Mariani-May. “Because we have more land dedicated to vineyard and a broader range of varietals planted than any of our neighbors, we have more people and greater resources on hand to deal with any given situation. Rather than picking immediately, we worked on the vines in order to insure that there would be something to pick later on. With good quality grapes coming into the winery, we will produce good quality wine. This will be one of those years to rely on producers in a position to make above-average wine for the vintage.”
Harvest of the early-maturing white wine varieties of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc began at the end of August, followed by Chardonnay and then the red varietals Merlot and Syrah, which were completed last week. This week crews turn their attention to Cabernet Sauvignon and finally Sangiovese, the crucial grape variety in Castello Banfi’s innovative “super Tuscan” cuvees SummuS, ExcelsuS, Cum Laude and Centine, as well as the sole component of the area’s traditional wines, Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino.
In addition to the Rosso and Brunello under the Castello Banfi label, aged two and four years respectively before release, the estate also produces the single vineyard reserve Poggio all’Oro, aged five years before release, and the cru Poggio alle Mura, culled from select vineyards surrounding the estate’s medieval castle. Those vineyards are the first planted with a selection of 3 to 5 vine clones narrowed down from more than 160 over 25 years of intense research conducted by Castello Banfi in conjunction with the University of Milan. The goal was to find a group of clones that together combined the best elements of Brunello and would produce a more consistently excellent wine over varying vintage conditions.
“Mother nature controls about 75 to 80 percent of the conditions needed for making fine wine,” noted Ms. Mariani-May. “That doesn’t leave us much more to influence, so every remaining measure counts toward excellence.”
The family owned Castello Banfi vineyard estate has been described as a “constellation of single vineyards.” A medieval castle crowning the estate serves as a hospitality center for the region, housing the Michelin-starred Ristorante Castello Banfi and the more informal Taverna, as well as an enoteca and a museum tracing the history of glass as it relates to wine. Castello Banfi was declared “International Winery of the Year” an unprecedented four times and Italy’s “Best Wine Estate” an unprecedented 11 times since 1994 at the VinItaly wine fair in Verona, Italy.