Heat wave prompts early harvest in Italy's vineyards

Friday, August 29, 2003

ROME -- Europe's heat wave has wreaked havoc on some produce. But for Italy's grapes, the dry spell that has forced an earlier-than-usual harvest may have a silver lining: a great year for Italian wines.

"Thanks to the high temperatures, we will have wines with a high alcoholic content. By harvesting earlier we will obtain a wine which will be perfumed and with all the typical characteristics," said Fabiola Covarelli, a winemaker in Genzano, 30 miles from Rome.

The heat has banished mold and parasites from the vines and thickened the grapes' skin, which gives wine its aroma and raises its sugar and alcoholic content.

If the weather turns out just right, wines such as Chianti, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, often the jewels of Italian and foreign cellars, will produce an especially good vintage, experts say.

That has required an earlier-than-usual harvest, however.

"This year the harvest has begun 15 days earlier because of the weather conditions, so as a result, we are harvesting maybe one month earlier compared to some years ago," said Antonio Posti, vice president of the Consorzio Tutela Vino D.O.C. Colli Lanuvini, a local wine growers' association.

Coldiretti, an Italian farmers' association, expects wine production to be about 1.3 billion gallons for the 2003 harvest, higher than the historic low of 1.08 billion gallons in 2002.

Italian meteorologists have described this summer as the nation's hottest in more than 50 years. But experts say the dry spell hasn't excessively hurt the grapes.

It has, though, led to some changes in grape-picking traditions.

In Sicily, where stifling temperatures and early harvest are less of a surprise, some vintners switched to night-harvesting a few years ago, and the new tradition is lending itself well to this particularly sizzling summer.

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