What happens when a winery skips a vintage?

It was recently reported that the Tuscan Biondi Santi estate had decided to write off the 2014 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino, their flagship wine. Biondi Santi’s wines are among the region’s most prestigious and it is likely that others will follow suit after difficult conditions throughout the season.

Brunello di Montalcino vines (source: Wikipedia)
Brunello di Montalcino vines (source: Wikipedia)

The toughest vintage

A wet summer in Italy hit Tuscany particularly hard. Other regions such as Prosecco were also badly affected by rainfall. The cool summer and excessive rainfall led to outbreaks of vine diseases throughout many regions from north to south.

The winemaker’s decision

When faced with a tough year like this, the winemaker has a decision on their hands – if the grapes have been ripened sufficiently there is a chance to salvage something of the harvest with masterful vinification in the winery. This might mean that the top wines are still produced, but in a much smaller quantity than on a good year. This, of course, will have an impact on the price, although quality is inevitably good enough to gain the winemaker’s seal of approval. So what’s happened in Tuscany this year reflects much tougher conditions than usual – a vintage when the most prestigious winery decided to protect their reputation and not risk making their prized Brunello this year.

What happens to the grapes?

These grapes are not wasted though, but rather they are used to make a ‘lesser’ wine, Rosso di Montalcino. A very fine wine in itself, the Rosso is considerably cheaper than the Brunello, and is not made to cellar as long as it’s esteemed big brother. Essentially, it is a great wine to enjoy while waiting for one’s stocks of Brunello to mature.

Vintage to vintage

Most of the top wineries of the Old World will operate like this to some degree, with winemakers reluctant to put their name to their top wines if they don’t feel they can achieve greatness. It is essential to make wine every year in order to have sufficient cashflow for the following year’s vintage. It can be a fine balancing act with European weather, but let’s not forget that it also gives us wines that vary intriguingly from vintage to vintage.

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