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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Wine Harvest Report 2016: New York's Long Island & Finger Lakes

As leaves turn, New York vintners assess their 2016 crops
Photo by: Lisa Hallgren
Riesling leads the Finger Lakes' harvest bounty.

Posted: Nov 7, 2016 11:30am ET

Remember when you were waiting for winter to end and spring to get rolling? So were vintners in New York state's two most prominent grapegrowing regions, the Finger Lakes and Long Island.

With cool temperatures lingering into the early part of the growing season, budbreak occurred about a week later than usual. As the trend continued into May, vines on Long Island were running a bit behind. Eventually, however, the summer warmth kicked in.

"From June through mid-August we saw at or above normal temperatures with no rain to speak of—only 1.3 inches in 10 weeks," says Russell Hearn, winemaker at Lieb Cellars on Long Island's North Fork. "With this spell we almost caught back up to whatever is considered normal."

August and early September remained warmer than usual but some patches of rain slowed things down again. In the end harvest ran a bit late. Hearn notes he picked his Pinot Blanc the last week of September, several days later than normal.

"Hurricane Matthew did not hit us, which was great," says Roman Roth, winemaker and partner at Wölffer Estate on the South Fork. "The only sad news really was some rains in September which kept the vintage from getting to the stellar levels of 2013 and 2015."

Most growers reported healthy yields, thanks in part to good bud set in 2015 and a flowering that occurred under calm weather conditions. Most vineyards are irrigated so any drought conditions were easily handled. Fruit came in healthy, with acidities generally on the lower side.

Upstate, the Finger Lakes witnessed a similar weather pattern, with a cool start delaying the season and warm and particularly dry weather taking over in the second half of the season.

"The defining feature of the 2016 growing season was the persistence of dry conditions," said Fred Merwarth, owner and winemaker at Hermann J. Wiemer on Seneca Lake. "Few other pressures stressed our vines, so on the whole we emerged from the growing season with clean, healthy fruit. The growing was hotter than usual but not as hot as 2012's hottest days. Since sugars were not spiking we had only to monitor acidities and, considering the heat, acids were great."

Yields were down slightly across the region, though not severely. 

"It was a smaller harvest due to some winter bud mortality and the summer drought. We were at about 80 to 85 percent of a typical year," says Bruce Murray, owner of Boundary Breaks. "But we saw higher-quality fruit due to extended hang time to achieve maximum ripeness. For Riesling in particular, maybe more interesting phenolics due to smaller berries and general level of ripeness." 

As irrigation is not widespread in the Finger Lakes, young vineyards and those on shallower soils struggled during the dry conditions. Most growers noted that acidities were on the lower side, but without higher sugars.

"Prior to this year, the driest growing season on record for the Finger Lakes was 1973," says Shannon Brock co-owner at Silver Thread Vineyards. "Rainfall during the 2016 growing season was only half as much as 1973. The lack of rainfall meant very low disease pressure. Heat led to lower-than-normal acidity in all varieties. Sugar levels, however, have been average. The extensive sunshine would have predicted higher sugar levels, but we believe the lack of water available to the vines due to the drought prevented more sugar production."

"Riesling crop size was down as a consequence of the dry early months," says Mark Wagner of Lamoreaux Landing. "I think of years like this as producing Riesling that will age more quickly than years that are cooler, wetter and have less sun. But Finger Lakes is Riesling. We do it well every year no matter what the weather throws at us. This year will be good as well. Will it be a great vintage? I'm reserving judgment until the wines progress a bit more."

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

Chad Dikun
Rutheford, NJ —  November 8, 2016 7:04pm ET
So glad to see the Finger Lakes get the continuing coverage it deserves. I can't wait to see how the wines turn out with such clean fruit! No matter what the weather throws, the region as a whole seems to just keep getting better and better every vintage.

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