To Harvest or Not To Harvest: that is the question!

To Harvest or Not To Harvest: that is the question!

REPRODUCED & ADAPTED FROM MY FACEBOOK PAGE (8 June 2020)

Just a thought, not a suggestion (because it needs to be considered within the strict context of each individual producer’s position), but in some instances there could be a good case made for not harvesting Prosecco or Lambrusco this year …

Unlike traditional method sparkling wines, which benefit from time on yeast, most Prosecco and Lambrusco are best bottled within months and best enjoyed with as much freshness and primary aromas as possible.

Despite Lambrusco going through an exciting renaissance and even though there are a few good cooperative producers, there are still some cooperatives who churn out the same old-fashioned, oxidised rubbish that ruined the Lambrusco name in the first place.

Why?

Because, similar to the Spanish and oxidised white wines 30 years ago, younger generations of Italians are not interested in oxidised sparkling reds.

The domestic market is still flooded with this old-fashioned stuff and it gets browner by the year. It is mostly churned out by industrial-sized co-operatives (although not all Lambrusco co-operatives are necessarily bad), who keep harvesting the same volume of grapes every year (because the co-operative is owned by the growers) and putting it through its first fermentation, even though the bottom has long since fallen out of the market for this sort wine. Consequently, the wines pile up and by the time they go through second fermentation, they are already old, brown, dull and lifeless.

They could improve the quality overnight by simply dumping their geriatric stock down the drain and starting afresh, but as this would leave a massive hole in their accounts, which would require some sort of tax break to make it practical. Another law ensuring that all Lambrusco must be bottled within at most 6 months of harvest would prevent history repeating itself.

Now COVID-19 has put every Lambrusco producer in the same unenviable position.

While many online wine retailers have reported booming sales, the entire on-trade (bars, pubs hotels, clubs, restaurants etc) has been wiped out for the past three months, as has tourism. Furthermore, the extraordinary social-distancing measures that will have to be taken when those pregnant that survive do manage to open up will ensure it will be a very long time before it will be business as usual.

This will not be a problem for any Lambrusco producer who has sold out or on track to do so, but there are many who are in a difficult position and if they harvest this year, they could end up putting their wines through second fermentation when they are too old, and end up in the same trap as the co-operatives who churn out stuff that looks more like Pepsi-Cola than Lambrusco.

Producers of Prosecco face the same problem, as it is another sparkling wine that has to be young and fresh as the wind.

So, what is the answer?

To consider the unthinkable: to leave the grapes on the vine this year!

In fact this is something I did not think up. An economist did.

In Champagne’s economic crisis of the early-1990s, sales were plummeting and stocks were rising dangerously high when I heard that an economist reckoned that the industry would be financially better off if they had not bothered to harvest the crop!
• Cost of harvesting saved!
• Cost of pressing saved!
• Cost of fermenting saved!
• Cost of chaptalisation saved!
• Cost of bottles, corks and labels saved!
• Cost of storage saved!
• Cost of energy saved!
• Cost of water & waste saved!

And when it comes to Lambrusco and Prosecco, there is the added saving of reputation because whereas an extra year in the cellar could mean added quality for Champagne, it would not be for wines that really must be so young and fresh.

If you can afford to get through the year with all the costs associated with harvesting, vinification, bottling and storage, and any losses in sales will not adversely affect the quality of wines released in the future (i.e., because they lack freshness and vibrancy), then super-duper, you will be one of the minority who survives the COVID-19 pandemic in a financially secure position and you very much should harvest.

This is not a proposal solely for Prosecco or Lambrusco producers. It’s not even a proposal: it’s a football to kick around, and it can apply to anyone facing financial difficulties. If that’s you, then, if nothing else, you should at least get your accounts people to run the numbers of “To harvest” against “Not to harvest”.

It is a difficult issue, but I am not pushing this as either the only answer or one that will suit everyone. I’m not even saying it is the right thing to do. I’m just putting it out there for those who find themselves in a tough situation to consider. I have heard from some producers who simply do not know what to do and yet they believe if they do nothing, they will not survive as a business. Well, if that is the situation, what do they have to lose by not harvesting? Extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions.

For the old-style co-operatives, it’s a question of disposing of the wines produced from grapes that have already been paid for in past years, and using the latest crop to produce a fresh style, so they would not have to sacrifice this year’s harvest, only previous years’ harvests. And if the government won’t or can’t help to cover the loss, they should think about how to dispose of the stock at a profit, perhaps by converting it to industrial spirit, biofuel, brandy or, as suggested in one of the Facebook comments, hand sanitizer, which sells for 6-7EUR wholesale …

For new-wave producers, they have to decide whether the cost of this year’s harvest is worth the damage to their reputation, if it means storing the wines and making less fresh wines.

By | 2020-06-24T14:51:44+00:00 June 24th, 2020|Articles|Comments Off on To Harvest or Not To Harvest: that is the question!

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