Vintage 2021 in Italy
Meteorological trends and observations from the wine-production areas in which Vitenova Vine Wellness operates
The 2021 season was characterized by opposite meteorological events: spring frosts, hail and a particularly dry summer, especially in central and southern Italy. Something that is happening more and more frequently. Italian total rainfall for summer 2021 was 32% below average, the sixth driest on record since 1800. 2021 in Italy was the tenth warmest year since 1800 (anomaly of +0.71° C compared to the 1981-2010 average), not to mention that 9 of the last 10 years are among the hottest ever recorded (at the top in 2018, with +1.17°C). The changeable weather of the last vintage has negatively affected the productivity of the vineyards; overall national production will be down 9% from 2020, according to forecasts from the associations of Italian oenologists and the government institute for agriculture, Ismea.
In other words, the vintage 2021 was a hot and less rainy year than usual, with lower productions than in previous vintages. However, the differences between the North and the South of Italy were important. Let’s take a look and analyze them more in detail.
THE VINTAGE 2021 IN NORTH-EAST ITALY
The first part of the vintage was cold and rainy in a spring that came after a quite cold and snowy winter. Overnight temperatures on the night of 7-8 April fell well below zero and frost damage was reported in some vineyards, especially of early-budding varieties cultivated on the plains. Abundant rainfalls made it extremely challenging to keep downy mildew under control. The pressure of this disease was very high in the first phase of the season but starting from June the generally dry climate has hampered the development of new infections. Across years grapevine yellows (“Flavescence Dorée” in particular) and their vector Scaphoideus titanus – also known as American grapevine leafhopper – are spreading; we are monitoring their diffusion through ad hoc projects. Despite the cold and rainy start of the season and the summer drought, harvest 2021 in north-east Italy is a great vintage. Thanks to the very favorable weather conditions at the end of August and September, the health of the bunches in the ripening phase and the quality of the grapes at harvest were among the best in recent years. Overall, irrigation was an important tool to increase grape productivity and quality.
THE VINTAGE IN PIEDMONT
Like in the rest of northern Italy, during the last part of winter temperatures were above the average, which resulted in a slightly earlier bud break. Even in this region widespread frost damage was reported, with vineyards planted with Nebbiolo particularly hard hit in cases where the vines had already formed shoots due to the warm weather preceding the frost. However, contrary to what was observed in the north-eastern part of Italy, May was dry and characterized by low average temperature, which has slowed down the development both of the vine and of fungal pathogens. Starting from June, the rising temperatures made it possible to compensate the phenological delay, and flowering took place quickly and uniformly. Unfortunately, also this year we registered hail too, which was particularly intense in Upper Piedmont. The scarcity of rainfall in the summer resulted in an average drop in production of 10%, although in some areas the decrease exceeded 30% if we consider the damage caused by hail too.
THE SITUATION IN CENTRAL ITALY
The lowering of temperatures and the consequent frosts in the nights between April 6th and 8th caused severe damage to the developing buds, which in some areas had already formed shoots, in particular on Sangiovese varieties in Maremma. The development of the vines was modest in this first phase of the season. Already starting from May, except for the Apennine area, the whole region experienced a very significant decrease in monthly rainfall, which resulted in a prolonged drought. On the one hand this condition has severely limited the development of pathogens, on the other hand the ripening process has undergone significant slowdowns. However, negative repercussions on the aromatic and phenolic characteristics of the grapes were mitigated through proper vineyard management, and the quality of the resulting wines is great. Yields per hectare are on average 20% lower than in 2020.
THE VINTAGE 2021 IN SICILY
Spring was dry, especially in April, and followed by an equally dry and hot summer. In southern Italy in general, summer 2021 was classified as the second hottest since 1800, with a difference of +1.8°C over the period 1981-2010. The extended drought was broken only in late August. Surprisingly, following the intense rainfall events of October and November – that hit strongly the eastern part of the region – there was even a condition of water surplus. The ripening of the grapes was not regular, in particular the red varieties struggled to reach phenolic maturity and on average the musts reached very high pH values. The yields were rather uneven in the region, with average productions in the western part and significant contractions in the eastern wine-growing areas.