I spent time in Montalcino in end August, the last opportunity to taste with winemakers before they are headstrong into harvest. Well, some of them anyhoo. A very challenging 2023 has caused estimated losses of 50% (or more) in some pockets across Toscana, with one highly downcast organic winemaker telling me “I doubt we’ll even pick. It’s not worth it”. *Thankfully I saw on the socials he and his team were bringing in something at least in early September, so I chalk his comments up to sheer despondency.
The spring of 2023 was unusually cool, with an early April frost, heaps of rain through June, pelting hailstorms around budbreak (reportedly the size of figs), and then a blast of unrelenting heat in July and August, trending towards the third warmest year since 1800 in Italy. After the drought years of 2021 and 2022 the rains were very welcome, to a point. The abundant and unrelenting spring rain led to widespread Peronospora (Downy mildew) across Toscana, with growers, especially organic ones, unable to keep up with sprays. Some growers couldn’t even access vineyards with machinery to spray due to the muds. Thankfully the heatwaves of the summer, fueled by the warm Sirocco winds from the south (vs the usual cooling Tramontane winds from the north) killed off the heat-sensitive Downy mildew. The clay / galestro soils of Montalcino vineyards excelled at holding onto water to sustain most of the vines through the baking summer, though no one could have predicted the vicious thunderstorm and hails that dashed the region when I was there August 15, damaging vineyards and grapes running their final stretch.
Obviously Downy mildew doesn’t affect quality of the finished wine, only quantity, which will certainly be down in 2023. Though the president of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, Fabrizio Bindocci, puts the overall losses this year around 5%, nearly all the growers I met with personally, spread throughout the appellation, reported much higher losses.
Harvest is now underway, and the growers and winemakers’ valiant efforts will soon be revealed. In the meantime, here are a few of my visits to the region in August 2023: