While the must that will become Amarone 2012 is waiting to start the fermentation inside tanks, vines pruning activity continues in vineyards. In a couple of weeks it should be completed in all Valpolicella area. Pruning determines the shape that vines will take, not only in the oncoming season, both also in the long term over the years. But above all, pruning determines how much the vine will expand and produce in the current year. Grape prduction is planned ahead by wine makers with pruning, and grape quantity per vine is one of the key factor that influences the quality of all wines in general and Amarone in particular. Pruning is therefore the first of many steps in that process that over many years will determine how good the Amarone of a particular vintage is.
Pruning should be done now that the plant is completely dormant.
It’s a quite simple activity but must be done accuratly. It consists in the removal from the vine-stock of the shoots that developed last year. Only one brunch, the most vigorous, is left, from this branch new shoots will grow from next April. On the trunk, lower than the main branch, a stump of another branch is also left. It is called “spur” (sperone in Italian), from it the main branch of 2014 will generate.
Now the main branch must be shortened to avoid overproduction. Around 8 buds are left. The autoctonous grapes of Valpolicella, Corvina in particular, develop fruiting shoots starting from the third bud. The two buds closer to the trunk only generate leaves, therefore from 8 buds left, only five or six will bear grapes. These are still too many for high quality, but it also allows some leeway in case something goes wrong during the year: spring frost, hail, etc.. If then the season is good and there is actually over-production, it is always possible to intervene with a green harvest that reduces bunches in excess before they ripen.
Once the pruning is over, the wires in the vineyards are tightened-up and the left branches are tied horizontally to the lower of these wires. New shoots will grow vertically and coil around the wires above.
The winter was quite cold and rainy. It’s February and temperatures continue to be relatively chilly, with temperatures few deegrees above 0°C (32°F). The last dried grapes for the production of Amarone and Recioto have been pressed. For the 2012 vintage, many wineries have done the pressing in December, but there are cellars that, in the pursue of for more concentration and complexity, have prolonged drying in the fruttai, the lofts specially equipped for the drying of grapes.
The must is inside fermentation tanks, full of the sugars naturally developed inside grapes during maturation and concentrated by the drying process. Companies seeking the absolute control of the production have added selected yeasts and are now maintaining temperatures inside the tanks to the desired levels with a system of cavities around vats inside which flows glycol, a fluid that can be heated or cooled as desired by a computerized monitoring system.
On the other side, most traditional wineries rely on indigenous yeasts naturally present on the skin of grapes. Cold temperatures slow down the action of yeasts that gradually activate and multiply inside the must. This is one of the secrets of Amarone. In winter, cold temperatures slow down the whole process, allowing a greater preservation of perfumes that, with most tumultuous fermentation due to high temperatures, would be likely to burn.
Each tank is equipped with a thermometer indicating the temperature of the must. At the moment they mark less than 10°C (50°F). As soon as the internal temperature begin to rise it will be the sign that fermentation has begun. Yeasts, “eating” the sugars in the must produce alcohol, carbon dioxide and, as a result of their activity, heat. In the middle of fermentation temperatures can reach and exceed 20°C (68°F). It is still a relatively low temperature compared to those that can be reached in October-November during fermentation of Valpolicella. For Amarone however, with the lower temperatures of February, the fermentation continues slowly and steadily.
While the cycle of production of Amarone 2012 is in full swing, a new cycle, the 2013 vintage one is just beginning. In fact we are now in the middle of pruning in vineyards. It’s a very crucial moment since it is now that wineries decide how the plant will develop in spring and how much grapes it will produce, thus determining to their quality.