Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vendemmia By Bike

The vendemmia is almost over and I feel like it never even began. Like a shooting star it was over in a flash this year.  I was lucky to capture these photos of the late vendemmia (grape harvest) today while guiding a bike tour for a group of twelve American and Australian clients.
Recently, I hadn't been taking many photos of the landscape while guiding tours because the uncomfortable weather since July has caused the Tuscan landscape to dry up and not look as abundantly green as it should be at this time of year.

The lack of rain and unforgiving heat forced the grapes to be harvested 2 weeks earlier than usual. And then it happened very quickly.  While the quantity suffered because of the weather, the producers are proclaiming an exceptionally high quality yield for Sangiovese grapes, specifically because the weather trend was optimal to force the maturation of a superior quality harvest. 

From the saddle of a bike, however, there appeared to be very little activity in the vineyards.  The grapes looked skimpy and starved on the vines, and many shriveled up to become raisins in the unforgiving heat.  The leaves and the grass turned brown before the grapes were harvested. Usually you see thousands of migrant workers in the vineyards.  This year it was comparatively silent.

But grapes like to suffer, and when they suffer,those that survive will produce a superior vintage.  So this is all supposed to be good in the long run.  And while the quantity has suffered, the quality is said to be the best in years.

Cycling through the Tuscan landscape several days a week allows me to interact with nature in an intimate way. I see the landscape grow and change every day, riding through the sun, through the rain, through the best and the worst weather.  Guding tours, I get to ride through mystical lush horizons of verdent green.  I have to smile through thunder, lightning, freezing cold, pouring rain, and this summer, intense heat.  I see all sides of Tuscany.  I see the stark silhouette of naked grapevines in March, the purple iris springing out of the ground in April, poppies and artichokes coming to life in May.  Sunflowers dancing in the breeze in June....and oh, the lavender!! I see the grapes appearing on the vines, and then watch them turn from green to deep violet over the summer. I see the olives growing larger every day.  I see the vineyards turning red and gold in autumn and then going back to sleep in the winter.  Every season, every day is a joy  watching life spring from the Tuscan earth.

It was strange to see Mother Nature come to a dead halt in early August, and it has not revived itself yet.  We haven't had rain in a long time.  The drought deprived many Tuscan towns of water for days, including Panzano and San Casciano.  It will affect the porcini and truffle supply this year.  But it seems to have brought good news for the grape harvest.

Today we were lucky to see the last grapes picked and to arrive at our winery destination just when the grapes were being de-stemmed! (See video below) For me, it was probably the last day of the vendemmia, because all the grapes are now gone. It happened so fast!

I am sorry to see the vendemmia come to a conclusion so early in the season, which makes me excited to see a new year of growth next spring.