By Randy Agness
“If there’s a running theme to this year’s harvest in the Finger Lakes, for most growers it is probably higher yields,” notes Hans Walter-Peterson Researcher from Cornell in a recent Veraison to Harvest Report, “Before those who still cling to the ‘low yield = high quality’ myth have a conniption, let me also say that while there is a large crop out there, there have also been a lot of leaves and shoots on those vines to balance out that larger crop.” So has the energy devoted to the grapes been spread too thin? Not exactly, the extended growing season and proportion vigor of the size of vines and foliage appear to have balanced out the situation.
“Higher yields can be great news for a grower, especially after the past couple of years when yields were down as vineyards were still recuperating,” continue Walter-Peterson. In discussing the situation with Morten Hallgren – Owner of Ravines Wine Cellar, Hallgren explained this isn’t localized. “I’ve been across the Finger Lakes from Canandaigua to Skaneateles Lakes, north – south the total amount may reach 60% above the yields experience in 2013. I didn’t think the region’s vineyards had the capacity to completely overwhelm the Finger Lakes winery capacity to process and store the tonnage coming in from the fields.”
“However, when everybody has lots of grapes, the challenge then becomes finding homes for all of that fruit,” explain Walter-Peterson, “The NY Grape & Wine Classifieds have been busy this fall. There’s still time left for fruit to find a home, but there are only so many tanks, bins, tubs and carboys available.” Riesling is coming still being picked this past week. “It’s everything labor as processing time thru crush, de-stemming and pressing is a fixed rate,” notes Hallgren, “the slow increase in brix and corresponding drop in acids delay harvesting of nearly every variety.” This combination has led to very long days in the fields and at the crush pads thus reinforcing the notion of ‘harvest widows’.
Peter Becraft – Winemaker from Anthony Road Vineyards explained the phenomenon this way, “I think it was a combination of disease free 2016 and a mild winter. Riding multiple vintages of bud mortality, the vines came back with a vengeance. The fruit set was large and the vines were vigorous. “You know that over the last five years, we were saved by September and October,” commented Morten Hallgren at Ravines Wine Cellars in Geneva, NY, “it had reached a point where it was looking like and approaching a lost season in terms of quality.” These same sediments lingered and spread from winery to winery. “Instead the crop turned out to be beautiful. The healthy vines and vigor created by the summer rains provide the stamina and energy to ripen the grape which providing a longer sustainable growing season,” remarked Hallgren.
The heavy loading on the grapevine were a concern earlier in the summer as vineyards were thinned out. Many initial crop estimates in the yield per acre or the amount in tonnage exceeded any expectations as it appears the vineyards all around the Finger Lakes are seeing a massive rebound with a robustness not seen previously and showing excellent quality.
The first frost is the sign that the growing season has ended as the leaves yellow and wither not able to provide energy to the plant. “The extended growing season has allowed the red varieties to hang much longer,” noted Glenn Allen – Owner of Damiani Wine Cellars, “the Merlot and Cabernet Franc have such rich lush color and wonderful tannins, we are looking forward to seeing the final results.” Damiani does focus on producing red wines, but explained the Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon are scheduled for picking over the coming weeks. So what initial was being focused as a possible bust, turned into a bumper crop of excellent wine grapes. The picking season has all but concluded this fall harvest with the exception of grapes for used to produce late harvest and ice wines.
As many that follow this column already know my brand is Agness Wine Cellars, I spent the weekend hand picking our Riesling grapes in the Tuller Vineyard, as well as checking in with Serenity, Leidenfrost and Zugibe vineyards among others, and can verify the claims being made are absolutely true. The fruit being harvested is of the finest quality and beyond any expectations, so anticipation will be very high for the release of the 2017 vintages.
“We are continuing to pick Riesling among others red grape varieties, and I couldn’t be happier as a winemaker with this harvest to work with,” cheered Bernard Cannac at Serenity Vineyards. Liz Leidenfrost – Leidenfrost Vineyards provided the same insight “Pinot Noir is among the most difficult grapes to grow thrived, yet the yield amount far exceeds any predictions and crop estimates. And Brendan Zugibe notes “With the increasing demand in bottles (and cases) at the tasting room, this is exactly what we need to match the sales growth. Tourism sales, distribution to wine shops and restaurants has increased dramatically up by nearly 25%.” Recognition for the absolutely outstanding quality have all come together as Hallgren pronounced, “It’s a very good perfect storm” and one being very well appreciated all across the Finger Lakes.