The Shape of things to come

We recently attended the 2018 vintage technical review presented by the Consorzio Colli Orientali del Friuli. With data spanning the complete season from Winter 2017 to Autumn 2018 our immediate overall take is that of a budding new era in the Colli Orientali. The awakening of a long-awaited vision.

The impressive breath of technical data and field observations presented clearly supports the growing need for regional change. More than ever, winery wheels are turning toward low-environmental impact models and a more sustainable way of working in the field.

And to this end, the Consorzio’s technical team merit HUGE praise for their efforts to both assist and educate their members in adapting to the new world order.

Global climate change is real.

In many far afield drought and wild fire hot spots, like California, dry-farmed ‘green fields’ are almost a thing of the past demonstrating beyond doubt how water stress limits the potential for life and quality living.

With millions of dollars currently being spent to put rovers on the Moon and bots on Mars, what once appeared as fantasy might one day become an option that humanity will have to consider!

Back on present day Earth, in the little known paradise of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, water stress is not high on the agenda for most regional inhabitants. As one of the wettest regions in Italy, this far northeastern corner of the peninsula holds more than a fair share of ‘wet spot’ records.

Though many often bemoan apparent high precipitation levels, for farmers and winemakers the alarm bells, small though they may still be, have begun to ring. Rainfall is not what it used to be. Added to which it’s getting hotter too. On the strade del vino one can see how irrigation systems are becoming increasingly visible in both low and now high lying vineyards. Preventative measures they say, just in case of emergency.

So is there really an emerging need? Well, the data suggests it.

In his presentation on regional weather drivers, local weather expert, Andrea Cicogna summarised how things panned out in 2018.

Rainfall median stats over the 12 month period demonstrated that, when compared to the 2003-2017 average, precipitation in 2018 was down on average by 246mm (923mm -> 677mm). Yeeeikes you might say. In statistical terms, it is significant. Fortunately on the ground, the potential adverse affect in 2018 was averted by how and when it rained. The even spread over the entire period was favourable with yards managing to get sufficient rainfall to maintain balanced growth. Stable conditions during budbreak and flowering was certainly a feature in why 2018 was such a fertile and productive year.

In addition to low precipitation, Andrea then threw in the heat stats. In simple terms the summer of 2018 in Friuli was a torrid affair. One of the warmest in the past 15 years. At 3.3 on the torrid index, it sits second in the standings between the previous peaks of 2006 (3.8) and 2003 (3.2)
From our own regular fieldtrips, we remember it well as a heavy and consistent heat, enduring all summer long. The most intense period during veraison from 26 July to mid-end August.

Local growers and winemakers will tell you 2018 was a great vintage.

Indeed for many an exceptional one. In living memory few could recall a better harvest window with September itself registering the lowest monthly rainfall across the whole season. This afforded ‘vignaioli’ endless options to choose and pick at optimum ripeness.

For the whites, the extended hot spell ushered in a premature pick of the precocious varieties – Sauvignon and Pinots Bianco, Grigio & Nero for those looking at sparkling options. For many it began before the Ferragosto holiday, making it the earliest start to a harvest in many years. With white aromatics more or less secure, the biggest winners from V18 have to be the reds. The month of September into October was simply sublime with the elusive phenolic maturity being achieved across all varieties. As a Rossista, rest assured you have much to look forward when this vintage starts hitting the shelves over the next 2-10 years.

Summarising the V18 heat stats, most notable was the staggering total of 57 days recorded above 30C degrees, with the peak occuring on August 1st … a scorching 37.1C at the Villanova di Judrio weather station.

Now in isolation you might say, that’s not so hot. But let’s frame the complete picture by reflecting on the regional heat trend since the mid 90’s. In 1996, over the entire season, the Colli Orientali recorded a mere 10 days that were above 30C degrees. Over the following four years the creep was such that in 2000, the zones average reached 20 days above 30C. By 2008/2009 it went through 30 days on average. By 2013 it had quadrupled going beyond 40 days on average. Yes, there are peaks and troughs all along the median. But the average is only going in one direction and alarmingly that’s up. With the 2018 figure at 57 days, it seems an average of 50 days above 30C may not be far off.

Compared to many, Friuli’s current climate might well be enviable. But there’s no room for complacency. Apart from weather concerns, Davide Cisilino & Francesco Degano outlined how nature is continually throwing diseased curve balls. Flavascenza dorata, Mal Dell’Esca, Blackwood, European Grapevine moth (Lobesia botrana) and the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) are prevalent. Not to mention the ubiquitous Peronospora and Oidium. While neither of these played any significant part in 2018, as one of Italy’s wettest reaches, Friuli-Venezia Giulia must remain alert.

And this is where the proactivity of Francesco Degano, Davide Cisilino and freelance agronomist, Giovanni Bigot is playing a vital role.

Reporting via a new real-time app, their output is increasingly informative and essential for reactivity. Hats off to them and their farsighted info gathering and dissemination. The seeds they are sowing are providing local growers with rich support.

Special mention goes to the collaborative project called ‘Viticoltura di Precisione’ (Precision Viticulture). In speaking of the technological rush to achieve oenological greatness, Giovanni Bigot outlined how we all have forgotten our natural connection with the land. His rallying call is to get everyone back in their yards. Get to know your vines and vineyards. Understand the evolving life forces and be prepared to adapt your ways. The message is strong and clear. In respone to the initiative, many winery’s have already switched to more sustainable low impact practices with increasingly visible results. All positive. For example the 2018 season saw an amazing average of only 9 treatments across the FCO production zone. Okay, it’s not yet a trend but it’s a strong indication of how working closer with and understanding more about natures forces, we can achieve measurable rewards. And that Quality payback is real, in both human and vinous terms.

Giovanni Bigot’s parting appeal to all was palpable. ‘You all noticed it last year… where were the bees?’

Is this the Shape of things to come ?
One sincerely hopes not.
Let’s get out there people.
Observe, Feel and Adapt,
we gotta make sure we’re lowering the Impact.

Shape of things to come – LOVE & MONEY

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