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2002 Reds and Whites Show Promise in New York's Finger Lakes

Dry, warm weather has allowed the region's top varieties, such as the later-ripening Riesling and Pinot Noir, to develop more fully

James Molesworth
Posted: October 15, 2002

Vintners in New York's Finger Lakes region are optimistic as their 2002 harvest nears a close, despite some variable weather during the growing season.

"I will always remember this past year as one of extremes," said Pete Saltonstall, owner and winemaker of King Ferry Winery, on the east shore of Cayuga Lake.

The year was marked by a hot April that caused an early budbreak. May followed with some cold rains and frost, which can kill buds and reduce yields. But most of the growing season was dry and hot, allowing the healthy grapes that avoided rot to ripen fully.

"Harvest started on Sept. 23, and we brought in some of the nicest fruit we have ever seen," said Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyards, located on the northeastern edge of Seneca Lake.

While dry and warm conditions are good for grapes, vines can be stressed by a lack of water and then curtail their ripening process or shut down completely. But some rain fell during September, easing the vines' stress and allowing growers to leave grapes to hang for an extended period. This, combined with warm days and cool nights through September, provided for greater flavor development of the later-ripening varieties as the harvest got under way.

Reviews were mixed on some of the earlier ripening varieties, particularly Chardonnay. Humidity, which can lead to rot, is a chronic problem for the region's winemakers. Steve DiFrancesco, winemaker at Glenora, Knapp and Logan Ridge wineries, reported some issues with powdery mildew on Chardonnay, saying, "Some fruit had to be rejected, eliminating our slight oversupply problem with this variety."

However, the qualitative heart of the region -- later-ripening varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc -- seemed to be performing very well.

"Reds especially are going to show nicely. Whites may be structured much like the 1999 vintage, with ample fruit and supple structure," said Dave Whiting, owner and winemaker at Red Newt Cellar, one of the region's top wineries.

Osborn, who was planning to pick his Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon this week, said, "The vines all look in excellent health and [the grapes] should be able to hang till then, no problem."

Overall, growers reported that yields are down, typical for a dry season, but that the grapes are more concentrated and should yield better wines. If the harvest can be completed without any dilution-causing rainfall in the next week or two, then the top producers should have high-quality grapes to work with.

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