PREMATURE easily describes the
2018 vintage in Friuli.

While you could also add Fertile & Productive to the mix, it’s the early onset of seasonal change that, for us, begs the deepest reflection. If ever a recent vintage might be cited as an expression of natures changing way, then at some future point we reckon we’ll recall V18.

On August 20th we found ourselves at the FVG Assoenologi 2018 Pre-Harvest Gathering in Corno di Rosazzo.

And no surprise when much of our first hand, field-trippin experience over these past 7 months was meteorologically underlined by many of the speakers, including local weatherman, Marco Virgilio.

For those unaware, winter 2017/2018 didn’t announce itself in Friuli until February 2018. And sure when it did, it was notable by its brevity and lack of severity. To think that one whole season was almost completely sidetracked struck us as being, well, extraordinary. By mid March 2018, natures train was already trundling across the yards. Split checks from one vine variety to the next showed bud break was in line, if occasionally ahead, of the median.

All that dramatically changed in April and May when temperatures soared to set regional records. The relief that there’d be no repeat of 2017’s Late Frost was warmly welcomed [… pun intended :) ]. Sunny days combined with low precipitation brought on growth at breakneck pace. Whatever their go-to grape indicators, while smiling, winemakers were nevertheless staring at vine vegetation up to 2 weeks ‘ahead of schedule’. In such prevailing conditions, early flowering was hotly followed by an outstanding bunch set.

With the healthy dose of mediterranean values continuing up to mid June, the FVG yard was flourishing.

According to Giovanni Bigot, having collected and analysed +30,000 data observations in 2018, FVG’s new cloud based vineyard data collection system happily confirmed the incidence of downy and powdery mildew was insignificant during this phase of growth.

By the second half of JUNE, though still ahead in vegetative terms, there was a slight easing of temperatures, leaving monthly temperature data to close out more or less in line with the average.

July weather opened in much the same way as June ended. Uncertain and uneventful. And then BOOM !

Sunday July 8th rocked up with hailstorms that cut swathes through parts of the Collio, Friuli Isonzo, Grave and Aquileia. Following its destructive path were the forlorn hopes of growers who in the space of 10 minutes had lost almost everything of #V18. Further concern still lingers as to the potential damage to next years growth. No need to stretch ones imagination to figure their pain.

As July grew old, the stable weather returned in the 4th week and temperatures were once again on the rise bringing on an early invaiatura / veraison (i.e. berry colour change). Not surprisingly, many reluctant thoughts turned toward the possibility of a pre-Ferragosto harvest. Falling on August 15th, Ferragosto is Italy’s annual summer holiday when everyone, including the winemaking community, should be resting up before the frenzy of ‘vendemmia’.

Interestingly during those days, we caught sight of an article penned by Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini in La Stampa on August 4th. Apart from his own alarm at the early onset of harvest, he also referenced our collective need to reflect on our indifference to what such change really means. In citing August 1st as Earth Overshoot Day (, we hold our hand up as it had passed us by without recognition. Imagine, from now ’til the end of 2018, we are actually consuming more than the planet can reproduce to meet our wants. We acknowledge & appreciate Petrini’s timely nod.

Reflecting in fast-forward mode, by August 10th some Friuli’s yards were already visibly populated with the first pickers.

Conscripted by Cellars with quality sparkling wine production in mind, truth be told, we’d heard mention that in Franciacorta as well as in Trento, they’d already begun the week before. And that’s as it is.

As a kind of throw away personal reminder for a later day, let’s add a LITTLE THOUGHT PROVOKING spice for good measure…
*Changing Tastes vs Climate Change?
*Industrial Commercialism vs Nature’s Way ?
*Appetite for Destruction vs Appetite for Life ?

Whatever way we look at things folks, in Friuli, as in other parts of northern Italy, to start harvesting before FERRAGOSTO is a landmark moment. Regardless of how it will pan out in the end, quantitatively or qualitatively, 2018 is going down on record as EARLY.

The irony of the FVG Pre-Harvest Meeting taking place 10 days AFTER the vendemmia actually started wasn’t lost on us.

Vintage 2018, more than any in the last 5, feels ominously like a hallmark for something we’ll be facing with increasing frequency. The so-called productivity of the vines, which some might naturally consider as generosity, could and probably should be recognized as the vines cry for help. By chance on Instagram we stumbled upon a March 2018 video post from flying winemaker Roberto Cipresso. In it Roberto spoke about the importance of understanding messages the vines give us. He spoke about how vines react when suffering grave stress. By nature they produce larger quantities of fruit, not out of generosity but out of fear, fear of dying. We found his point compelling. This year, vineyards all across the FVG region were displaying significant increased crops compared to 2017. As yet, no-one we’ve asked could offer a clear explanation as to why. Could this have been connected to 2017’s late frost? Maybe. Or was it due to this vintages record heat in April & May? Maybe. Or is there a deeper message that over the past +20 years we’ve neglected to heed ? Quite probably. For sure spending more time in the vineyard observing and understanding vine behavior will not be time wasted.

Moving into August, Marco Virgilio informed us how the first three weeks recorded one of FVG’s longest continuous spells with temperatures continuously above +30C. According to Virgilio, with August 2018 temperatures now already +2C above the monthly average, 19 out of the first 20 days were above +30C !!

As we script this review (partial though it is), we can already add three more to that tally, making it 22 out of 23 days! Would it surprise you to learn that, when glancing at the Consorzio dei Colli Orientali del Friuli temperature stats 1996-2017, since 1996 the average number of vintage days above +30C has more than doubled ? From less than 20 days in 1996 to above 40 days in vintage 2017. Yeah, over the last 22 years, the temperature averages are going steadily in one direction only… UPWARD.

As had been forecasted at the Corno di Rosazzo meet, a significant cold front has just moved down over Friuli. With heavy rain and thunderstorms clattering outside the window, a significant drop in temperature is set to endure, for this weekend at least. A welcome refreshment from the wave of heat. Hopes are it might even be the JUMP to BUMP the natural cycle into a more traditional September harvest sequence. However on foot of Giovanni Bigot’s warning, there’s equal apprehension that this slightly cooler weather harbors the potential for a late Oidium attack.

Recalling the outcome during the same period of Harvest 2017, these next 4 weeks are crucial.

After all, there are tank loads of healthy fruit still out there. The fact remains, no matter how good we are at predicting, none of us mere mortals has the capacity to control natures way. We can’t stop the wind when it starts to blow. For sure our combined actions are leading to environmental change, cause and effect. Mother Nature, as the strongest worldly force, will endeavour to redress what we’ve distorted, to fill the hole that we have dug. Yet it won’t always be balanced, neat or tidy. If by default, our earthly indifference endures, where industrial and financial profit find most favour, then upfront we’re gonna have to accept that the ‘net-net’ will most likely NOT be to our liking.

Vintage 2018 in Friuli is premature. But is it a marker indicating far-reaching changes to come ?

It’s certainly not difficult to conceive.

Click PLAY if you’d like to learn how Bob Dylan was singing about this and similar stuff in 1964 !

HELLO 2018… the truth never grows old…

The Times they are a-changin – BOB DYLAN

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