Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I Heard It On The Grapevine
Ripening grapes on a Tuscany vine Ripening grapes on a Tuscany vine
Just before we went to Tuscany last weekend, a neighbor mentioned that he'd heard the grape harvest would be early this year. We heard more mentions about the early grape harvest while we were in Tuscany. When we returned home, in my e-mail inbox I found a press release about this year's early grape harvest from a Tuscany website.
So I suspect I'm on fairly solid ground in reporting that the Italian grape harvest will be early this year. In the area outside Florence where we stayed, I myself saw vineyards all around us, with clumps of deep purple grapes hanging heavily, ready and ripe.
Still, it's best to doublecheck these things. Going online, I quickly found some recent reports from various excellent sources confirming the early harvest, and offering the whys and whereofs.
Who said what
The first find was a lengthy report on reviewing predictions from the Italian Wine Union (in Italian only), a confederation of Italy's grape growers and vintners. The site also quoted ISMEA (in Italian only), a public economic institute focusing on Italy's agriculture. Published in July, in summary, these sites forecast that the 2007 Italian grape harvest would be the earliest in the past thirty years, and that it would be five percent less in quantity than that of 2006. The quality of the harvest will remain high, according to these predictions, with possible variations in some areas of the south.
Vineyard in Siena area of Tuscany Vineyard in Siena area of Tuscany
A primary reason for the early harvest, according to these reports, is the unusual 3-4 degrees Celsius rise in temperatures in March and April this year, more or less throughout Italy. This caused the vines to germinate on an average of fifteen days ahead of time.
After wading through the four-page, single-spaced Wine News opus, I moved on and found a concise, short article about the early harvest published recently in the International Herald Tribune (AP). This article also cites the Italian Wine Union as a source.
Of particular interest in the IHT article are the market statistics – for example, last year Italy sold nine billion euro worth of wine (compared to US sales of twelve billion dollars). The article also mentions that the U.S. alone buys half of the Tuscan red wines (primarily Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino) destined for the foreign market, and 36 percent of foreign market red wines from the Piedmont region (Barolo and Barbera).
At this point, I returned again to the Tuscany website press release I had found in my inbox from Arianna & Friends. The site is the creation of seven native-born Tuscans who work as professional tour leaders, land owners, winemakers, cooks, tour guides, chauffeurs and teachers. They are offering their services in particular, it seems, to English and German speaking tourists, as the site is presented in both these languages.
This press release reports specifically about the grape harvest in Tuscany, and says that experts there are declaring that quality will be high, and that the vintage 2007 will be memorable.
A day of sightseeing
Coltibuono winetasting guide Olivia pours the winery's Cetamura bianco Coltibuono winetasting guide Olivia pours the winery's Cetamura bianco
We didn't spend all our time standing around watching grapes grow, fascinating as that can be. On Friday morning we drove to the Chianti area, south of Florence. We had a late morning appointment for a guided tour and winetasting at Badia a Coltibuono, a former Benedictine abbey (founded circa 1100s), that is now a winery and farm estate owned and managed by the Stucchi Prinetti family.
The tour was conducted in English by Olivia, a young university student from Florence. It featured tastings of three Coltibuono wines. The first was Cetamura bianco, made from Trebbiano, Malvasia and Sauvignon grape varieties, and it was followed by a Chianti Classico, made from the area's most wellknown vines, Sangiovese and Canaiolo. The third was another red, Sangioveto, made from Coltibuono's oldest Sangiovese vines, according to Olivia.
Bottles of wine, vintage 1988, in Coltibuono's old cellar, once long ago the abbey crypt Bottles of wine, vintage 1988, in Coltibuono's old cellar, once long ago the abbey crypt
As no cheeseballs or cashews were served, and I couldn't resist drinking most of the wonderful stuff poured into our glasses, I strolled away from the abbey a bit wobbly. But happy.
For lunch, we drove to the tiny village of Villa a Sesta and happened upon the newly opened restaurant of the Villa di Sotto B&B. We sat on the small terrace overlooking the B&B's olive grove, vineyards and vegetable garden. The tomatoes on our bruschetta al pomodoro came from the garden, as did the just-picked vegetables in the salad we had later.
For the first course, we had fresh, handmade pici (pici recipes here and here) made by the owner Sauro and his wife Paola, who are the chefs. Sauro also serves the food and generously answers all questions. Pici (pronounced Pea-chee) is a rope-like pasta about one-eighth inch in diameter. It is a popular star of cucina Toscana. From the three sauces offered on the menu that day for the pici, we chose one made with Tuscan pecorino, and a second of beef ragu.
B&B Villa di Sotto owner and host Sauro on the restaurant terrace B&B Villa di Sotto owner and host Sauro on the restaurant terrace
Sauro told us that the menu changes day to day, depending on the season and what's ready from the garden.
The restaurant also has a wine cellar featuring a wide selection of Tuscany's best. I had to decline, choosing water only, given that I already had a dizzy head from overindulging in the morning's wine feast. Peccato, as the Italians say.

(Editorial disclosure: As a standard policy, I never accept any remuneration or gifts from any of the places I mention on this website or in any of my free lance articles.)
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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