Article originally published on WINE SPECTATOR

Harvest. For winemakers, no other word is loaded with so much potential and anticipation. After a long growing season of endless work in the vineyards, it’s finally time to see what nature delivered. On the West Coast, most vintners are reporting 2013 as a great year, a twin to the promising 2012. In many parts of Europe, however, 2013 marked another vintage of challenging conditions and low yields.

In the fourth of five 2013 vintage reports, growers across Italy describe a tricky harvest. A cool, wet spring delayed the growing season and lowered yields. A cool summer ripened the grapes slowly, but in areas where the rain stayed away through autumn, growers could pick ripe, balanced fruit, even though some suffered a wet October. While it’s still to early to draw conclusions about final quality in the bottle, here’s a sneak peek of what may lie ahead.

Italy

The Northeast

The good news: Rain. Well-timed showers helped the development of some vines and averted hydric stress during particularly warm periods.

The bad news: Again, rain. In some areas, rainy conditions and cooler temperatures early in the growing season resulted in uneven flowering. In other areas, rain in fall and during harvest created the threat of mildew, making the timing for picking and the sorting of grapes crucial.

Picking began: Depending on the area, harvest typically began the week of Sept. 9 or Sept. 16.

Promising Areas: Conditions in Alto Adige were more in line with historical norms, distinguishing this vintage from a recent spate of warm harvests. It should be a classic vintage for the region, with crisp, acidic structures and aromatic flavor profiles.

Challenging Areas: The late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon grape had difficulty reaching full maturity as rain and cooler temperatures set in toward the end of harvest.

Analysis: The 2013 growing season was a challenging one for winemakers in Italy’s northeastern regions of Friuli–Venezia-Giulia, Trentino, Alto Adige and Veneto, but not all hope is lost. “It was a long and difficult season for those who want to make very high-quality wines, and easier for those who are looking to make good but straightforward wines,” said Emilio Del Medico, winemaker at Friuli’s Bastianich winery.

Depending on the region, conditions ranged from cool and rainy to hot and dry. When factoring in threats such as hailstorms and mildew, it became clear that a deft hand and experience was needed to successfully navigate the growing season. For some regions, it may be best to stick with top producers in 2013. Still, in areas such as Alto Adige, the challenges may have imparted strong personalities to the wines. Karoline Walch, export manager for her family’s Elena Walch winery, said, “It seems our wines, and especially the whites, show more character this year and are a true reflection of the region.”

—Alison Napjus

Piedmont

The good news: 2013 looks like an exceptional harvest for the late-ripening Nebbiolo grape.

The bad news: Mildew could be a problem if not controlled. Despite a green harvest by quality growers, September rain swelled the berries.

Picking started: Early September for Moscato and white varieties; Sept. 25 for Dolcetto; Oct. 7 for Barbera; Oct. 7–25 for Nebbiolo.

Promising grapes: Nebbiolo in Barbaresco and Barolo.

Challenging grapes: Barbera, a grape that generally likes heat, was very high in acidity in early September.

Analysis: Piedmont’s spring was wet, leading to pressure from fungal diseases, but dry, cool weather in August set the tone for September, which saw sunny and dry days matched with unusually cold nights. The long, slow ripening should result in complex wines, particularly from Nebbiolo, which is the last grape to be picked.

Barbara Sandrone, whose father, Luciano, celebrated his 50th harvest this year, said, “There is more than a tinge of the 1960s or ’70s, as this vintage could be defined not only for the timing, which is closer to the traditional [harvests], but also for the potential features of the wines. [There is] less concentration and lower alcoholic content, but more fruit, with richer aromas.”

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