In the late 1970s and early \u201980s, a handful of Piedmont\u2019s top producers like Elio Altare and Michele Chiarlo\u00a0started to eliminate grape bunches, known as crop thinning or green harvesting. It was a practice already employed in top French appellations to lower yields and improve quality.\r\n\r\nLocals thought these trailblazers were crazy. Seeing clusters of perfectly good grapes on the ground, growers with vineyards near Chiarlo even asked the parish priest to intervene to stop what they saw as sacrilege.\r\n\r\nFast-forward to today\u2019s warmer, drier growing conditions, and this now-commonplace practice has contributed to naturally higher alcohol levels and lowered fresh acidity. It\u2019s time to rethink things. The idea behind the method is that fewer bunches per vine allow for better grape ripening, which generates more concentrated wines and higher alcohol levels. Thirty years ago\u2014a period with colder, wetter growing seasons and vineyards focused on quantity over quality\u2014crop thinning made sense.\r\n\r\nThirty years ago\u2014a period with colder, wetter growing seasons and vineyards focused on quantity over quality\u00ad\u2014crop thinning made sense.\r\n\r\nUntil the early 2000s, frequently cool summers and rainy autumns in Barolo meant Nebbiolo often had difficulty ripening. Controlling yields through crop thinning was crucial to obtain quality.\r\n\r\nBy the late 1990s, producers across Italy replanted in selected sites at higher densities and with newer clones. They also switched over to better training systems and pruning methods. These measures were designed to lower yields, fight disease and encourage ripening.\r\n\r\nThen came climate change. Hotter, drier growing seasons have increased alcohol levels and lowered acidity around the world. In Piedmont, it\u2019s not uncommon to see Barolo and Barbaresco with 15% alcohol by volume (abv), while 15.5% is no longer unheard of for Barbera d\u2019Asti.\r\n\r\nIn Montalcino, Tuscany, where Brunello producers used to have difficulty reaching 13% abv, most now admit that keeping wines under 15% is a challenge. And in Collio, in the northeast, white wines at 14.5% abv are now commonplace.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAs alcohol levels rise and acidity plummets, consumer tastes have swung in the other direction. Most people now prefer elegant wines with tension, but without excessive alcohol. Cluster thinning needs to be reassessed.\r\n\r\nSome argue that alcohol levels don\u2019t matter if wines have enough fruit. Yet, it\u2019s hard to find high-alcohol wines that boast balance, vibrancy and complexity, or that are food friendly. Lower acidity also puts a wine\u2019s longevity at risk.\r\n\r\nAlthough producers are sharply divided over the issue, I stand by those who are pulling back on crop thinning to focus on quality wines that boast freshness, finesse and balance.