An early autumn deluge of rain following a year-long drought threatened to wipe out any hopes for the 2002 vintage, but Tuscany's Castello Banfi vineyard estate relied on mobility, timing, and its unique microclimate to yield better results than expected for the Brunello zone.
"An early start to the harvest saved our white wines and gave us better quality than we normally would have expected from such a vintage," said Cristina Mariani-May, family proprietor. "Our red grape varieties endured the subsequent rainfall, but our team moved quickly to harvest during the first, blessedly sunny two-week reprieve." While it was difficult to obtain physiologically mature grapes on the north side of the zone, abundant summer sunshine in the warmer southern end of the Brunello region, where Castello Banfi is located, made the Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah grown there ready to harvest sooner. Ms. Mariani-May also pointed out that the hillside exposure of Castello Banfi's vineyards and the generally wider spacing between vine rows on the estate encouraged air flow that kept the grapes free of mold, fungus and rot.
Harvest began August 9th with Sauvignon Blanc, reported Ms. Mariani-May, followed by Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay to complete the white harvest by August 25 as the first rains began to fall. With the most vineyards and the greatest range of varietals in the growing zone, she said, Banfi's early and long harvest attracts the dwindling supply of temporary local workers. "Our people were in place, ready to pick on a moment's notice," reported Ms. Mariani-May. "The fruit may not have had the quality we hoped for, but we brought completely healthy grapes into our winery."
Vintage 2002 will be recorded as one of the wettest in history, but the rainfall was abnormally concentrated in a 17-day period that alone exceeded the three-month summer rainfall of the past two years combined. Over 11.5 inches of rain fell between August 23rd and September 7th, 2002, compared to 2.6 inches in 2001, 4.2 inches in 2000 and 2.8 inches in 1999 over the same period. The conditions of 2002 will result in lower production at Castello Banfi for the second year in a row - spring frosts in 2001 acted as a natural pruning device last year. "But things could have been a lot worse," noted Ms. Mariani-May, who pointed out that many vineyards in northern Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto were wiped out this year by hail. She predicted that the estate's resulting 2002 wines may not have as much concentration and structure as better years, but the reds should rate about three stars on a five-star scale, while the whites should come in around four stars. "Anybody can make great wine in a five-star vintage," she said, "but the true test of a wine producer is what they can do in a lesser vintage. Consistency has always been a strength of the Castello Banfi estate."