The European Wine Harvest 2011by Bike tour guru
A hundred days ago, while western Europe was basking in some unusably warm April sunshine, vines from Burgundy to Bordeaux, Touraine to Tuscany and Alsace to Alentejo began to bloom. Busy insects quickly went about their business visiting small flower after small flower, pollinating and fertilizing the countless meters of vine stock and starting the most visible few months of the 2011 wine season that will soon culminate in this year's harvest, which will of course serve as the backdrop for many of our European bike tours.
In the three months since bumble bees, wasps and our other flying friends did their work, diligent wine makers have carefully monitored their vines as they make the seemingly magical journey from flower to fruit. Deep-set roots have fed on underlying minerals and raw elements; rain has nourished young shoots; plump bunches of grapes have ripened in warm sunshine; leaves have photosynthesized sunshine into sugar:tannin-rich skins have stiffened in the wind and countless man hours have gone into the nurturing of the golden, purple and russet bunches of grapes that any day now will be picked and pressed to become the much awaited 2011 vintage.
Will it be a great year for Burgundian reds? A stunner for Champagne? A blow out in Bordeaux? It's to hard to say sitting in our office in Boston so we have asked our guides on the ground for a quick pre-harvest round up.
Tom reports from Italy that in Tuscany all the winemakers agree that this has been a strange year weather-wise. A warm, dry spring led to early flowering, but then some rainy weeks in June and July seemed to slow down the maturation process. Winemakers are always a bit coy when discussing the prospects for the coming vintage, like card-players unwilling to reveal their hands. This is largely due to the fact that they have experienced a lifetime of fickle weather. A perfect hot, dry summer can produce a mediocre vintage if September brings a lot of rain. Conversely, a hot, dry end of the season can help turn around a mediocre summer. Talking with our friend Vittorio Innocenti, a Vino Nobile producer in Montefollonico and with Barbara at the Brunelli Winery in Montalcino, there seems to be a sense of cautious optimism. They are predicting an early harvest here as well (beginning in the 2nd week of September) and have already started preparing for the "vindemmia" by bottling some older wines to make space in the barrels and confirming the harvest dates with their picking crews. This next month will be essential in determining whether 2011 will be one of the great vintages that we cherish years down the road or a weak vintage that languishes in the discount aisle at your local wine shop.
The grape harvest, or vendemia, is in full swing in Piedmont, starting with the moscato grapes. The moscato grapes produce a delicate still desert wine, with little resemblance to "your father's" frizzy moscato d'Asti. Moscato vineyards grace several of the routes of our Piedmont bike tour on the first three days, along with little-known gems like Arneis, Cortese, Brachetto, and classics like Barbera and Dolcetto, prior to our route taking us into the more world-renowned Barolo region, with it's noble Nebbiolo grape. The Nebbiolo grape, one of the latest harvested (even it's name in Italian includes the word nebbia, or fog, as it is typically picked when the autumn fogs begin rolling into the vineyards), won't be ready for harvest for another several weeks, though most certainly earlier than normal, due to the hot, dry summer here.
Our guides on the Cote D' Or in Burgundy tell a similar story. Burgundians are keeping as tight-lipped as ever and any early optimisms for the year are being underplayed with typical shoulder shrugs and "Je ne se pas". There are rumblings in the southern Cote D'Or that the recent heat wave could lead to some interesting results from the regions world-class Chardonnays, but if the heat remains for the harvest itself, forcing the grapes to cook a little in their hods, that could all change. In the Cote de Nuits humidity and an airless July mean many worried about disease, possible low production and lack of concentration, but again the heatwave may have come to the rescue! Alas many lost their whole harvest to freak hail storms in the Beaujolais in late July, but St Vincent was smiling on the cote D' Or and her grapes remained untouched and all indications are for a good year. An early flowering and dry May have also instigated an early harvest, with picking for Chardonnay starting any day while the Pinot Noir will wait for the first week of September.
The word from Pablo in Spain is that the harvest in the Rioja and Ribera regions will coincide perfectly with our October Rioja bike tour. Excellent weather in 2011 is due to produce another excellent year in Spain. Not a lot of rain, good terroir, and new investments in wineries have set the stage.
Whether 2011 is a good year for Europe's wines remains to be tasted. But one thing is for sure; there has never been a better time to get on a bicycle and visit these fascinating wine regions. In Champagne, Rioja, Provence, Burgundy, Piedmont and Loire Valley wine harvests have been taking place for thousands of years and the time honored practice of picking the grapes, pressing them and turning them into wine has changed very little. Many grapes are still picked by hand, whole communities work together and post harvest celebrations and pageantry are second to none! We know that a DuVine Adventure is the best way to get a real feel for this fascinating element of the wine making experience - a unique chance to get caught up in the excitement and the energy of the process. So why not saddle up and come and find out for yourself why 2011 is a great year for a pedal-powered wine adventure and you can witness wine history in the making!