Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reviewing Vintage 2010 (No Grades, New York Times Style)

2010 will go down as an unique growing season and vintage in the Finger Lakes.  While our colleagues in California were dealing with difficulty ripening grapes (!), I remember calling my parents in early April as I was working in New Zealand - only to be told the temperatures were in the 80s.  From a frighteningly early bud-break, given the threat of frost, to extremely warm and wet conditions throughout the summer, I do not think anyone has a clear idea of what this vintage will look like a few years from now.

Despite that, we have finished pressing out all our grapes now and I love to prognosticate.  Based on what we are tasting and hearing from others around the lakes, here is a first stab at deciphering vintage 2010 now that we have enough information to try:

  • Hybrid and Native Grape Wines (Cayuga, Concord, Niagara): This is a huge category to try and lump together, but the fact of the matter is that these grapes tend to ripen early and in the same timeframe.  This vintage that meant we heard of people harvesting these grapes in early and mid-August at entirely normal sugar levels.  Considering they came in so early, before the rain and storms that proved troublesome come September/October, it is a safe bet that 2010 wines made of these grapes will be just fine.  Certainly the fruit was ripe, the only question that may vary from producer to producer is whether there was enough acid to back up the wine.
  • Chardonnay and Pinot Noir:  Both came in for most around Seneca Lake in early to mid-September, in that nice balmy stretch that finished out our summer.  Dry skies and warm temperatures means that the harvest conditions were ideal, the warmth during the growing season resulted in some jaw-dropping sugar measurements on these two grapes.  Never will the Finger Lakes turn into a producer of the bland, jammy, international style of red wine that some other New World pinot noir regions have traded on; but certainly this is a year for some of the richest fruit aromas and flavors we could hope for.  Chardonnay were also rich and dense, so it looks like a great year across the region for wines made from either grape.
  • Pinot Gris/Grigio and Gewürztraminer:  Hard to summarize for these two Alsatian grapes, folks pulled them in at markedly different times across the region.  At Fox Run we kept ours hanging for three weeks more than many down in the Seneca Lake Banana Belt were, but in the end I think everyone is happy with the ripeness of the grapes both in sugar and flavor.  You’ve already heard Tricia’s take on our Gewürz, but I think the thing we were most amazed by was the fact that Pinot Gris grapes actually had distinct flavors.  As popular a wine as it is, Pinot Gris grapes are not usually so striking in their aromatics and flavors.  All in all, these were generally the last grapes to make it in before the series of rain events hit the Finger Lakes harvest and consistent high quality for 2010 seem likely.
  • Riesling:  There is never a bad year for riesling in the Finger Lakes, as Fox Run’s owner/president Scott Osborn often points out.  2010 is no exception, and has the potential to be a truly great year for the right growers and producers.  By consensus, 2006 was one of the best years in recent memory for riesling in the Finger Lakes due to a nice balance of sugar with a clean acidity that did not disappear.  The concern with 2010 is that the warmth and accumulated sugar levels would come at the expense of acid levels in the grapes and, subsequently, the grapes.  So far that doesn’t appear to be a problem, and instead we are left with fantastically ripe fruit with tropical flavors we rarely attain.  The bigger concern for 2010 riesling in the Finger Lakes will be variability due to harvest conditions.  Riesling did not start being harvested until the brunt of the rain started to hit (as well as reports of ladybug outbreaks), leading to extreme disease pressure for growers that were not ready for the poor weather.  Dreams of noble rot and late-harvest wines were shot by the reality of sour rot and disintegrating grape-skins forcing the hand of some growers to harvest everything and quickly.  Having not had a chance to taste much, all we can say is a huge THANK YOU to John Kaiser and our vineyard team.  Despite the rain, at Fox Run we had the luxury to pick our riesling when we felt they were ready - even leaving one special block hanging to pick up noble rot.  John kept our fruit clean of disease and we are ecstatic with the 12 tanks of riesling now in our cellar.
  • Bordeaux Reds (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot):  It is no secret that Finger Lakes reds can have a difficult time achieving ripeness levels we would consider ideal.  Regardless of that, we can say something in general about the bordeaux reds of 2010 that would normally sound delusional; quality is likely as variable as with riesling.  Great ripeness levels were almost a given this year for these grapes; high Brix levels, great flavor ripeness, even the seeds tasted densely chocolaty and nutty without a hint of bitterness.  Unfortunately, due to how long they take to ripen, they had to survive the battering of cooler weather, rain, and wind that threatened later rieslings in October.  We have high hopes for quite a few of our blocks, especially those we put into our Ruby Port and Tawny Port programs, but nothing firm will be known for another year when they start to come out of barrels.

2010 is not even fully in the books yet - and won’t be for quite some time if a winery is doing a late harvest or icewine - but there is a first attempt at summing up what we think we’re seeing.  For the earlier ripening grapes 2010 looks to be fantastic across the Finger Lakes, for the later ripening grapes it comes down to knowing your producer.  There will be nothing bad out there and the potential for greatness absolutely exists if a winery was able to seize it.

By: Kelby, Winemaking Team

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