2017 was characterized by extreme weather conditions that strongly impacted plant growth and vineyard production, which can also be said for a great many other agricultural products, with a drastic reduction in yields. All over the country, the wine production of 2017 was the lowest recorded in the last 70 years. The Montepulciano area, which was certainly no exception to the general climatic trend, registered yield losses, according to the position of the individual plots, ranging from 30 to 45% compared to those of 2016.
Winter rainfalls were less abundant than usual and, with the arrival of spring, the groundwater reserves were still low: between October 2016 and March 2107, only 280 mm of rainwater fell, compared to the 400 mm normally recorded in this period. Temperatures were on average lower in January and higher in February and March.
In the month of April, between the 19th and the 21st, following a mild early spring with above-average temperatures, a cold spell from the North caused the minimum night-time temperatures to fall drastically below zero, causing damage to the tender young shoots, not only (and primarily) on the valley floor, but also in the hilly areas where the vines were at a more advanced stage of growth. This was no normal frost of the type caused by temperature inversion (radiation), which usually causes damage on the valley floor, but a frost attributable to masses of transported cold air (advection) combined with wind which caused widespread damage all along their course, often resulting in very serious effects on the valley floor where such masses tended to “settle”.
The rest of the spring season was characterized by above average temperatures, especially in the month of June, low relative humidity and scarce precipitations. July recorded normal climatic conditions for the period, with persistent hot dry weather and strong sunshine. At the end of July, following some beneficial precipitations which appeared to announce a fall in temperature levels, another heat wave arrived taking maximum daytime temperatures up to 35-40°C in the first decade of August and to 30-35°C for the rest of the month. This exceptionally hot and dry August was followed by a cool September with below average temperatures accompanied by 5-6 providential days of rain.
The bud burst was rapid and uniformly distributed and occurred in the various areas of the terroir between the end of March and the first week in April.
Plant growth was sharply interrupted during the violent frost of 19-21 April, when the shoots of the different vineyards were between 5 and 40 cm long. Wherever it struck, this frost totally or partially devitalized the shoots and their respective buds, reducing or nullifying the potential yield. It is estimated that about 20% of the Montepulciano vineyards were negatively affected by frost.
As temperatures increased, the shoots resumed their growth, but more slowly and gradually, partly because of the thermal shock suffered by the vegetation and partly due to the limited groundwater. At the end of May, there was still a noticeable inconsistency of shoot growth between the higher and lower areas of the vineyards, which had been damaged by frost to various extents and were slowly recovering their foliage.
The somewhat precocious flowering of the plants began and finished without interruption in the last decade of May.
The growth of the green plant organs continued throughout June and July at a rather slow pace. In mid-July, much earlier than in previous years, the shoots stopped growing and started to become woody. Contemporarily, the fruit on the vine began to colour. This precocious start to the veraison was not followed up by an equally rapid conclusion; in fact the ever increasing stress from drought, accentuated by the hot and dry air currents in the first decade of August and exasperated by the phenomenon of evapotranspiration, slowed down the entire process, which was not complete before mid August. The scorching heat of August not only slowed down the development of the plant but also caused a serious loss of foliage and dehydration of the clusters in those vineyards where groundwater reserves had fallen to critical levels for the plants. The international grape cultivars suffered more serious effects than Sangiovese and the other autochthonous varietals, proving that the latter are able to adapt better to the local pedoclimate.
This widespread suffering of the vines ended with the arrival of September. Right from the first day of the month, the temperatures fell by 7-8°C and were accompanied by the first rainy spells. In the space of the first three weeks of the month, there were 5-6 precipitations which enabled the vines to reintegrate their water reserve and successfully complete the maturation process of those grapes spared by the summer heat wave.
As already observed in similar years, for instance that of 2012, the plants reacted to the scarce supply of groundwater by forming weaker shoots with short internodes, leaves and clusters of reduced size with exceptionally small berries. Another characteristic of this growing year has been that of a somewhat modest concentration of fruit sugar. In fact, with the September rainfalls, the plants started to absorb water vigorously, causing the hydrated berries to increase in weight and dilute the sugar previously accumulated. As maturation continued, the sugar content was obviously built up but without ever reaching the very high levels normally associated with hot years.
Most of the grapes were harvested in the month of September.
Summary of the main phenological phases
Bud burst: 26 March - 7 April.
Flowering: 22 - 31 May.
Colouring of the grapes: 18 July - 14 August.
The wines of the 2017 vintage Small berries with a very high skin/pulp ratio, medium or medium-high sugar content, medium-low acidity and good phenolic ripeness have regaled wines of a very intense colour, well-balanced in their alcohol and acid contents, with abundant complexity backed up by a significant tannic texture. The aromatic component, probably the most difficult oenological aspect of this vintage, is dominated by notes of spices and ripe fruit which normally distinguish the Sangiovese profile in hot production years.
In brief, an extreme year and an unfortunate one owing to the serious losses caused by the adverse weather conditions, which has given us a small yield of good and excellent quality wines.