Following the theme of my previous blog post, I thought I’d check on the pre-harvest conditions in New York’s Finger Lakes wine region.
Those of us in the northeast don’t need to be reminded what a miserable summer it’s been, weatherwise. Both June and July were abnormally wet and there’s been a paucity of 90-degree days so far, conditions that have severely hampered many crops in the northeast so far this season (tomatoes and potatoes especially). This past weekend saw the western edge of Hurricane Bill’s influence dump more rain and muggy weather from Massachusetts west through the Hudson Valley,
The Finger Lakes, located just a four-and-a-half hours' drive northwest from New York City, is a cool-climate wine-growing area featuring a shorter growing season. Consequently, the area has to rely on grape varieties that ripen well under these conditions, Riesling being the most prominent vinifera variety the region has success with. So far this season the Finger Lakes has seen similar weather as the rest of the northeast—cool and rainy—though the only consistent thing has been its inconsistency.
“It never ceases to amaze the variance between one spot and another,” says Fred Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, located on the western side of Seneca Lake, the area’s most prominent wine-growing lake shore. “We had 7 inches of rain here at the winery last week, but only an inch and a half up at our Magdalena vineyard (located just 10 miles north). I’ve spoken to other people who have gotten constant rain this year and others who get these sudden deluges.”
The excess moisture means more vine vigor and vegetative growth that growers have to wrestle with if they want to get their fruit fully ripe.
“Things have just kept growing, so we’re doing another leaf cutting and additional canopy management to open up the fruit zone as well as additional spraying (to ward off rot),” says Merwarth. “That’s the most bizarre thing about this season, that the vines are still growing at this point.”
Merwarth compares the vintage so far to 2006, but insists that it’s still too early to make a prediction for 2009. And since it has been a cooler year so far, grape acids are rather high, meaning growers will have to hope for an Indian summer that provides dry weather into early October for picking, about two weeks later than normal.
“But I don’t think we’re as far behind as everyone thinks they are [regarding ripening],” says Mark Wagner of Lamoreaux Landing, located on the eastern side of Seneca Lake. “We had a slightly early and extended flowering period, so the timeframe for that followed by veraison and then ripening is usually consistent. Maybe just a day's or two's difference depending on the weather.”
“I would have been pleased if the rain had finally quit a week ago. There’s a little bit of downy mildew around but nothing serious,” says Wagner. “We’re not really worried about it at this point for the whites but I am sweating it a little for the reds. We’ll probably have to drop a little more fruit to get them to ripen, which in the end just means a little less wine, but better quality. Nothing wrong with that.”
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