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Snow Can Make or Break a Harvest in the Finger Lakes

Posted: Oct 22, 2008 4:19pm ET

By David Whiting

Posted by David Whiting

Well, harvest is wrapping up in the Finger Lakes. It's still very busy, and there are more grapes to be harvested, but I notice that I am occasionally leaving the winery at a reasonable hour, which means that the finale is in sight.

Now, about the snow. Of course, whenever one speaks of weather, there is an implicit element of gloom and doom in any report. The fact of the matter is that there was some snow today. Not a blizzard, not a squall, not even spits, but rather the lightest spat of frozen precipitation that could have been interpreted as a coarse rain.

The Finger Lakes region has some rather diverse topography that is intimately linked to our viticultural potential. Our lake, Seneca, is at about 450 feet above sea level. Most of the best vineyard land around Seneca Lake is below 1000 feet. As one climbs up the hillside, the weather can change quite dramatically. When I headed up the hill to go home today, around 8pm, it was blustery and chilly at Red Newt (900 feet above sea level) like it had been all day. About half way home, and about 1100 feet above sea level, I found that hint of snow. During the real winter, this is the place where I find squalls and drifts. There have been times when I have been totally snowed in at my house (1300 feet), and upon shoveling out and making my way to the winery, find only rain! But there were just gentle spats today.

In addition to making snow and cold, this elevation has a great impact on the vineyards, particularly at this time of year with frost prevention. By now, most vineyards over 1000 feet around Seneca Lake have seen at least one hard frost and are, for the most part, past harvest and defoliated. Many vineyards in more optimal sites may have seen some frost burn on the tip top of the canopy, but still have a healthy, green canopy ready to soak in some late harvest sun.

In spite of the lack of a blizzard today, harvest is winding down. By Friday of this week, we will have everything but Cabernet Sauvignon in the cellar. The forecast is for some blustery weather over the weekend, but it will become clear and sunny later next week for our final harvest.

So far, 2008 has been a good year in the Finger Lakes. This summer was quite warm, but our harvest weather has been really quite ideal, with long stretches of warm sunny days punctuated with cool, clear nights. This ideal weather combination has had a very positive impact on flavor and aroma development in our aromatic, white varieties like Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer is the other white grape in the Finger Lakes. This year, I harvested our best Gewurztraminer vineyards this week with sugars over 25 brix and flavors that don't stop. I have been making Finger Lakes Gewurztraminer for 20 years, and prior to 2007 had never seen this combination of flavors and chemistry. But here it is again in 2008. It is at times like this that one realizes how much more there is to learn and experience.

Allan Charek
Medina, Ohio —  October 24, 2008 7:03am ET
We just returned from a five day trip to the finger lakes, staying in a rented house on Seneca, and visiting 30 wineries. My wife and I fell in love with the finger lakes several years ago after our first visit, and try to get back once a year if possible. On this visit I was amazed at how much better all the wines are getting accross the board, much more polished. Red Newt has always been one of my favorite wineries to visit, and did not disapoint his time. We ate at the Bistro there and again had great food and a fine experience.

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