Lamole Di Lamole Vatieri W3A7514

Harvest Tales

Lamole di Lamole Vatieri W3A7480

When grapes become wine – a journey through harvest season, from the fields to the cellars. Wine harvest is an ancient practice whose important social value was celebrated in Greek and Latin literature. It represents a moment of gathering and sharing, where people meet and where tradition and innovation, intuitiveness and science come together.

 

Harvest is not only a time to pick grapes but also “An occasion for people to get together and work side by side for at least three weeks in a row. It’s a way of celebrating the end of the season and the final moments of working together.” Francesco, bright eyes and hands of a winemaker, takes us on a tour of Campolungo. This is a historic vineyard located in Lamole, in the town of Greve in Chianti. The area – close to Florence and bordering Siena – is home to the Sangiovese grapes that year after year constitute the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigneto di Campolungo by Lamole di Lamole, the Tuscan wine producer Francesco works for.

It is Thursday morning in early October and the harvest is well underway. Tractors and men at work are visible from a clearing along the road that gently ascends from Greve in Chianti to Lamole through a series of winding roads lined by cypress trees where men separate grapes from the branches meticulously and methodically.
The person orchestrating the operations in one of the highest points of Chianti Classico is wrapped up in multiple wool jumpers as the temperature is always cold in Lamole (the village is 500 meters above sea level). He keeps an eye on the harvesting progress, as well as the weather – the wind is blowing and the clouds are moving rapidly, shadows and patches of sun rotate regularly, which means the weather could change at a moment’s notice and have an effect on the progress of the following day.

Harvest is a very important word in this area. It is not difficult to understand why as one arrives in the village that sits on the hills of the so-called Chiantishire, a place that so many American and English tourists have fallen in love with. They fill up the restaurants and osterie in October, dining on chicken liver, truffle and of course, red wine. Rows of vines lie in neat lines, some following the slope of the land, others are planted on terracing with dry-stone walls that are typical of Chianti. The word Lamole derives from these terraces that from afar resemble tiny blades placed one on top of the other, initially caused by natural erosion of the stone, hence the name Lamole which derives from the Italian term for blade: lama.

The practice of harvesting has ancient roots and its social relevance was a core theme of the works of Greek and Latin poets and playwrights. Bacchus and the Bacchae are one of the most popular representatives of wine in ancient iconography, ranging from the all-too-famous motto In vino veritas to the scientific and naturalistic interpretations of Gaius Plinius Secundus – better known as Pliny the Elder – the scholar who analyzed the properties present in earth in relation to the cultivation of the vine and the quality of wine. In his Naturalis Historia– written in the first century A.C.– not only did he list as many as 185 variants, but he also celebrated the supremacy of Italian wine over foreign ones.

The uniqueness of this area is one of the reasons that make the Chianti Classico Lamole di Lamole so peculiar. The estate counts 173 hectares, 57 of which are vineyards, the first attribute that defines these vineyards – aside from the soil rich in clay – is the altitude, ranging from 400 to 650 meters which influences the mesoclimate and microclimate.

From May to late August, Lamole experiences an inversion in temperature, with the heat of the valley rising to higher altitudes during the evening, whilst during the period in between September 1st and the harvest season is marked by a clear temperature change, with abrupt temperature differences between day and night. Monte San Michele protects the area from cold winds, making it particularly suitable for the cultivation of the vine.

The timing of the harvest naturally also depends heavily on the climate, “In order to achieve the perfect process, one must pay attention not only to the new machinery available, but also to the aroma and phenolic ripeness of the grapes” says Andrea Daldin, who has been making wine for 22 years at Lamole di Lamole. “The harvest period is very precise. In order to time it perfectly, ancient winemakers observed the behavior of animals such as deer and wild boar, the most reliable tool to decide whether grapes were ready or not at the time. Today the techniques employed by the Tuscan company to decide the right time to pick grapes are very sophisticated and highly scientific; aromatic and phenolic progress is monitored on a constant basis.” However, numbers and projections must be combined with a good deal of intuition to produce a memorable harvest, even when that might not be the case.

“The harvest that pleasantly surprised me was actually the hardest one,” continues Daldin. “2014 was a positive year from a climatic point of view, with and plenty of clouds and rain, but for every winemaker it was a dramatic vintage. We delayed the harvest to early October, enjoying the prolonged sunny period: those grapes were among the best we’ve ever had.”

In the present harvest, a group of people move rapidly through the vineyard picking the grapes mechanically but with careful attention. The right hand parts the leaves as a hairdresser would do with long hair, then cuts the stalk. The cluster falls into a big red plastic bucket, a few grapes, however, end up in the mouth. They are sour and sweet at the same time. This is the very first stage of the harvest – according to the protocol, one can pick up 75 quintals of Sangiovese grapes per hectare, at most. In the case of Lamole di Lamole, the picking process is done entirely by hand. “Technology has made a great deal of progress; machines that pick grapes can deliver excellent results nowadays,” says Andrea Daldin, “But we choose not to use them. Not only they are not suited to the type of land we have here in Lamole, where the edifices and vineyards are so close to each other, but we also wanted to respect the plants. The human factor matters a lot to us, even in grape harvests machines can’t select the grapes as a person would.”

Next year will be crucial for Lamole di Lamole as the Tuscan wine producer will obtain certification that verifies its organic authenticity for its products produced from grapes harvested in 2017, the final stage of a process that started long ago. “Organic farming is not a fad, at least not for us,” continues Daldin. “It’s a real philosophy. First we assess the earth and subsequently the plant, as one is a direct consequence of the other. Our technological and scientific knowledge of the area allows us to cultivate an organic product better than we did in the past, but everything starts with respect for the land and the desire to produce sustainably. This is why an investment in machinery and technology should be accompanied by an investment in high-level professionals and trained personnel.” Over time, this personnel has replaced college students who were a natural choice to collect the harvest.

In Campolungo, part of the “human capital” of Lamole di Lamole picks grapes methodically. Marco from Figline Val d’Arno – a 55 year-old man sporting a hat for sun protection and a shirt with thin stripes – is an expert. “I’ve been involved in wine harvesting since I was 10 years old, that means I’ve been doing it for 45 years, and I think this happens to be a perfect year,” he says while he works. After the harvest, grapes are loaded onto tractor crates, which can contain up to two and a half tons each. They make a short trip before reaching the cellar, where they will be transformed into wine: all the vineyards are close to the edifices, in a matter of minutes by car.

The gray gate slowly opens and grapes make their entrance under the amused eyes of one American family ready to take a peek and taste. The beauty of harvest is really evident at this stage.

What was once done using large wooden buckets, barefoot, today is mechanized (rightly so) and checked by super attentive staff: grapes are unloaded, stalks are removed (they will be recycled, another step in making production sustainable), and grains are selected from a machine that assesses the color, size and thickness of the peel. Peels and grapes will ferment for just over a week in the same tank, to finally then be divided in the drawing off stage (called racking).

Outside, the scenario is very familiar – peering through the windows of the cellar, you can see there are some leftovers on a table. It is an “improvised canteen” for those who work here. Bottles of red wine stand out on a waxed floral tablecloth. Touché. The sight is topped off by the smell of sweet grape juice intoxicating the pungent October air and the rumbling sound of tractors in the background. Picking grapes in Campolungo does not stop until five in the afternoon. “The process is lived with feelings of participation and enthusiasm: the transformation of grapes into wine recalls the cycle of nature itself.” Once this early catharsis occurs, wine will need time to rest and to mature slowly.

It will initially be stored in large steel tanks, whose temperature is meticulously kept under control by staff, and then transferred into wooden barrels for the crucial stage of refinement – this is what the French call élévage, a term that connotates the idea of wine elevating towards higher and more ambitious goals.

 

Words Marta CasadeiI
Photography Fabrizio Vatieri

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