The battle of the grape harvest in Sicily: quantity drops (minus 35%), quality is always high


By John

Downy mildew and extreme climatic situations have set the Sicilian vineyards are put to the test, difficult harvest and with an estimated drop of up to -35% in some areas. The quality of the grapes, explains Assovini, could however remain intact.

The longest harvest in Italy, on average over one hundred days, this year will start ten days later than the 2022 vintage. The torrential rains of May and June, the extreme heat of July, the fires and the presence of attacks fungi have made the island’s vineyards a battlefield for farmers, but thanks to the return of cooler temperatures, the initial drop, estimated at up to 40% in some areas, could be less.

In the south-east of Sicily the 2023 harvest will be «one of the most difficult in recent times». «This year, apart from the torrid heat of these days – says the producer Arianna Occhipinti – we had torrential rains and strong gusts of wind in the months of May and June, important for the flowering of our grapes, climatic conditions that brought the hard work that we carry out every day with my team». The main enemy is downy mildew: it has caused «considerable damage for about 30-35% of our future production; the sulfur and copper treatments, the only ones we do in the vineyard, in higher concentrations were not enough to contain the problem. We will certainly have a lower harvest than the 2022 harvest. However, this does not mean that the quality of the grapes will be questioned, on the contrary, possibly we will have less quantity but greater quality». «In Vittoria – underlines Patricia Toth of Planeta – it is important to underline the position and the soil of the vineyards. We are on the slope with a pure sandy upper layer, overlooking the sea, above Marina di Acate, where precisely the sand and the movement of air have not given way to constant humidity. We expect good productions like Nero d’Avola and Frappato, keeping the vineyards under close observation to check for the presence of scale insects and leafhoppers. In Noto, as generally throughout the island, today we consider about a week or even 10 days of delay in the phenological phases, with healthy and truly promising grapes». Downy mildew had to surrender on Etna. Here until the end of June there were low temperatures and continuous rains, such as to make interventions in the vineyard difficult, followed by the extreme heat of the end of July with reduced temperature ranges between day and night and hot winds, but «thanks to the very draining volcanic sands , at high altitudes and constant ventilation, there was no presence of the fungus and, despite the high temperature peaks, the plants keep well», explains Maria Carella, oenologist at Cantine Nicosia, on the south-east side of Trecastagni, Zafferana and Santa Venerina. «On the northern side of Etna – confirms Toth – downy mildew is under control thanks to the arrival of heat and high temperatures. In the high areas, around 900 meters, we have wonderful grapes thanks to the different ventilation of these areas and also to the structure of the soils.

We will start in Western Sicily, with the collection of the sparkling base, and then continue with the international varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, followed by the native vines. The producers of Etna will close this long Sicilian harvest at the end of October. «What makes the Sicilian harvest unique – says Mariangela Cambria, president of Assovini Sicilia – is the variety of Sicilian areas. Each territory has unique climatic conditions and soils that translate into the extraordinary diversity and variety of Sicilian wine production. About a week after the start of the harvest, it is still difficult and premature to make accurate estimates of production. Surely Sicily proves to be able to govern the effect of climate change, thanks to increasingly sustainable agriculture and agronomic techniques, focusing on quality and not quantity”
Assovini’s picture indicates an excellent quality of grapes for western Sicily, which have not had problems with powdery mildew or botrytis. The heat has wiped out about 40% of the grapes, but the unburned ones are regaining strength in the cool temperatures. «The impact of downy mildew was prevented by the weather huts, which have the ability to electronically indicate the probability of the disease, avoiding irreparable damage», explains Filippo Buttafuoco, viticultural technician of Cantine Settesoli. In the Regaleali wine-growing area, in the province of Palermo, the months of March and April, which tend to be dry and cold, resulted in a general delay in budding of about 10 days, which “made it more manageable – explain Lorenza Scianna and Laura Orsi, winemakers of Tasca d’Almerita – the following period was very rainy but tendentially cold, and made the pressure of vine diseases, such as downy mildew, less invasive». «Currently – they continue – the vineyards have adequate foliage, they are healthy and there is a decrease in average temperatures which suggests a good ripening of the grapes starting from the veraison of Pinot noir and Chardonnay which is taking place in these days. With regard to quantities, even the Sallier estate, in Camporeale, should respect the company’s historical averages but it is still early to sing victory. The good vegetative coverage protects the grapes from possible burns and helps to preserve aromas and freshness. Finally in Mozia, the island is little influenced by the climatic conditions of the mainland, the tree should ripen immediately after August 15th with quantities that fall within the historical averages of Mozia and with healthy and crunchy grapes».