Posted by David Whiting
Monday, Oct. 6
Harvest is well on its way in the Finger Lakes. We'll be wrapping up with most of the white varieties this week.
Did I mention before that this was an unusual harvest? With the year being unusually warm, as well as having more moisture than is typical for that kind of heat, I was looking forward to the harvest with a quizzical eye. Now that we are well into it, I am seeing individual varieties and vineyards respond differently to the unusual conditions.
About every year now, I seem to find myself saying that it is a vintage like none other that I have seen. Having made wine in the Finger Lakes for 20 vintages so far, this carries some weight. Each year as a winemaker, I start with one more vintage of experience, which helps. But to get the most from each year, I find it useful to take a deep breath, clear my mind, and shift much of what I have learned onto the back burner. I spend my energy on listening to the vineyard and interpreting what it says within the context of my experience. You know how some people say that they would love to go back to being young again, only knowing what they know now? (Not me, by the way.) Well, in a way, I get to do this each vintage as a winemaker. The important thing to remember is that just when you start thinking that you know it all, you'll be firmly reminded that there is more to learn.
Two weeks ago, we were enjoying perfect ripening weather with no end in sight. Alas, there was an end—last week. But the five days of rain that was forecast turned out to be one or two heavy showers and a few days of cool, cloudy drizzle. We are now back on track with a stretch of sunny skies coming up. So far it is pretty cool, but it is not unusual for the Finger Lakes to receive a substantial amount of warmth later in October.
In some years, this late season ripening is somewhat lost due to the leaves having already given up the ghost. But this year, with ample moisture and no drought stress throughout the summer, many canopies are still looking nice and healthy and ready to photosynthesize. All in all, the 2008 vintage has been very nice so far. I am really excited about the Riesling that I have been tasting in the vineyard, as well as Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.
One exciting development at Red Newt this year is the first harvest from our young Riesling vineyard. Red Newt does not actually own any vineyards—we buy all our grapes. But starting in 2007, we have been contracting with some of our nearby growers to plant acreage exclusively for us. The first 5-acre block of Riesling was planted on the west side of Seneca Lake (the opposite side from us), about 4 miles from the winery, and had optimal weather conditions in 2007 and 2008 for strong growth. In order to maintain vigor and vine size, a small crop (about 1 ton per acre) was left on the vine for 2008. These vines have proved to be quite precocious, ripening the grapes to 22 degrees Brix early in the season, with intense fruit characteristics of vibrant tangerine.
Contrasting this vineyard, we are harvesting grapes this week from one of the older Riesling vineyards near the winery that we source from, planted about 25 years ago. While this fruit is slower to ripen, it is showing aromas of orange marmalade and flavors of Clementine and dried apricots. The Finger Lakes is diverse in its terrain and microclimate, and sourcing fruit from vineyards on opposite sides of this 1.5 mile wide by 40 mile long lake is proving to be most interesting.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions