Seriously, we are good. Last year was a drought year for the Finger Lakes but this year has been one of the wettest on record. Upstate NY had the wettest March and April ever on record according to National Weather data. Just in the past 30 days over 10 inches have fallen. For the last 90 days we are between 8-12 inches above our normal average.
Weather data for July 25th, 2017 90 Day departure from normal.
So you see that little purple blob in the middle of the map? That is where I live. The Grey at the top is Lake Ontario and this is the highly pixelated view of rainfall as a departure from normal for Western NY. What does this mean? Very little sun and LOTS of water. The rivers are overflowing. Lake Ontario is 28 inches above its long term average even after record outflows are being sent into the St. Lawrence seaway. The massive flooding of roads and new water ponds in fields brings to mind that once, well before the glaciers carved out this amazing terrain, this area was covered with a massive in-land sea. Flash flood warnings are a nearly daily occurrence. That high level of moisture results in intensely humid days similar to the ones I grew up with in the deep south. The growers have to be totally on their game to keep the fruit clean. Downy Mildew is having a field day in vineyards which have been caught unaware. Luckily, the fruit that I work with looks clean so far. The fruit is still green and hasn’t even thought about veraison yet so the vintage can still be saved.
Flash flood warnings are a nearly daily occurrence. That high level of moisture results in intensely humid days similar to the ones I grew up with in the deep south.
I’m putting in my August weather order now. We need sun and heat and no more rain. The vines have plenty of water reserves to draw from and are growing like weeds. Hedging is a must but that can end up compounding the issues because of lateral shoot formation which further closes the canopy. Closed canopies can lead to further fungal infections and it all just becomes a vicious cycle. Closed canopies can also have an effect on next year’s harvest due to high levels of shading on the buds. I hope this fate is one which most if not all growers can avoid.
In the winery, we are a little less than a month from starting harvest for the hybrid whites. We are trying to make room in the tanks and making sure we have plenty of harvest supplies. I placed an order for more barrels today, having just located another fun red variety to add to the 240 Days line up. What is it? You’ll have to wait and see!
I’m trying to tell my inner CA winemaker to shut up. It’s raining and it’s going to be raining for 5 days. Then we have 3 days of warm and sun and then more rain. Do I pick everything in the window or do I hold out that we might get an Indian Summer mid October. Such is the life of an East Coast winemaker. We, like the folks on the west coast have a general guarantee of weather. Usually it will be less than ideal for harvesting so we all turn into gamblers. Some pick early, some pick later but we all get to compare results at the end which is what makes it fun.
This summer has been amazing for the vinifera grapes. The severe drought has made berry sizes almost 25% smaller which should make for very concentrated flavor however acids have been dropping rapidly. I’m off to cruise through the Riesling and some of the Cab Franc this morning. Hopefully they will hold up through the next few days of rain in order to fully realize the gift that nature has given us as a vintage this year.
Here we are again. Standing at the exciting start of another vintage. It is the beginning of spring and while my friends in California are already well underway with budbreak, in the Finger Lakes, we are slowly emerging from one of the mildest winters in recent memory. Even though the winter was largely mild, that did not mean it was without challenges. After an almost 70 degree Christmas Eve, the temperatures plunged to below freezing rapidly in a 24 hour period. There was also one weekend in January where the temperatures plummeted as the Polar Vortex swooped in. Many areas of the growing region reported temperatures well below zero with some dropping to 10 below, right to the edge of some Vinifera varieties’ cold hardiness. This issue was compounded by the fact that we received very little snow this winter. The snow can offer insulating properties for the trunk and graft union of the vines when it remains for the season. There was only one significant snowfall the entire winter. It remains to be seen how these singular but compounding events will affect the crop. Initial estimates have come in from 10% to 50% loss so it is likely that it will, once again, depend on individual site location. Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, the two largest and deepest lakes of the Finger Lakes, didn’t even think about freezing this year which should help vineyards that were close to these bodies of water. I didn’t achieve my goal of a weather station up on our property last year to record the winter temperatures so I have very little to go on to understand how our site would have been affected.
There is talk of an early budbreak here since the spring weather has been showing up earlier than normal. This brings the danger of an extended frost season to the area and very few vineyards have invested in the equipment to counteract it. The roar of frost fans, so common in the spring in Napa, does not exist here. This serves as a silent reminder that, even though winter is over, the danger of cold is not.
In the winery, we are preparing to bottle the Riesling and the Rose for 240 Days as well as our own Trestle 31 Riesling. The Cabernet Franc is developing in barrels very nicely and I’m encouraged by what I see evolving there. Brian and I met with Stuart Pigott, this past week who tasted through all four wines and seemed to like them. Pigott’s write up can be found here on his site, Riesling Global. It’s always nerve racking for me, regardless of how long I’m in the industry, to present my wines, which are in some ways like my children for judgement. I’m glad he understood what we were trying to do.
For my part, I am thoroughly enjoying the weather. Spring here consists of cold but sunny days with piercing blue skies with white puffy clouds perfect for identifying hidden pictures with my three year old. I am waiting for all the bulbs that I planted last fall to show their first signs of life and for those two weeks that usually happen in late spring where everything is a verdant green and blooming.