Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring Has Sprung?

The 2010-2011 winter has been a long slog here in the Finger Lakes.  Given our latitude, continental climate, and the presence of the Great Lakes (and the lake effect snow that comes with them) you might think that winters wouldn't faze us all that much and, for the most part, you would be absolutely correct.

This winter has been unique in its sustained endurance, however, and that is what has set it apart. Depending on your location in the lakes, there has been snow securely blanketing the ground since just after Thanksgiving.  And even if you were in a part of the lakes that escaped snow until mid-December, that was just a matter of being out of a snow band's reach because the temperatures were certainly cold enough.

It's not snowing...
...but it's awful cold.

Truly, even more than the snow, the temperatures have been the reason this winter has seemed so much longer and more difficult than normal.  In most years we can count on some sort of "January thaw" to warm things up well into the high 40s or beyond after the depths of winter have settled in.  Whether this phenomenon is real or imagined, at the very least it is reasonable to expect a day or two to have temperatures above the average as a result of normal variations.  Not so this winter.  It has been cold and below freezing without a break for weeks on end - and the lack of any let-up is what has really made this winter memorably difficult.

So it is no surprise with what relish we welcomed the brief respite from the cold that was delivered to the Finger Lakes late last week on the heels of a furious wind storm.  Even though it was in the mid-50s you would have thought it was a Caribbean Isle with how happy people were acting, some of the students at Hobart and William Smith were (predictably) walking around in shorts and sandals.  As nice as the temperatures were, however, it is always the smell of melting snow and remerging earth and grass that really make me happy in a thaw.

In the winery, the clearest sign that a thaw was temporarily on was the reemergence of the winemaking staff back outside onto the crush pad.  After weeks of bone chilling cold and wind, there were tasks to be completed outside that had been put off for marginally warmer days.  With high temperatures in the 50s, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I would be setting up our pressure washer with the single-barrel cleaning attachment outside over the drain.  We had three stainless steel drums that had been emptied and well rinsed, but were still waiting to be blasted out with scorching hot water.  Checking that item off the to-do list while standing in the stronger rays of the sun may have been the most rewarding part of the entire warm-up.

The Finger Lakes being the Finger Lakes, however, we all knew it was not going to last when it is the middle of February.  Sure enough, winter struck back with vengeance on Saturday that even caught people off guard who were prepared for a return to winter.  While the sharp winds brought chilly temperatures and clear skies to the rest of the East Coast, up here in the lake snow belt the sudden temperature change meant blowing and drifting snow so numbing that it felt like a moonscape or nuclear winter in the middle of the day.

Then again, this harsh return to winter is fine, so far as I am concerned.  After the past 8-10 weeks, we all know that the harshest stretch of winter is behind us.  Bring on the snow, for surely the spring cannot be far behind anymore!

By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

Music of the Day:
  • Radiohead - King of Limbs; "Lotus Flower" (Nothing says winter like a dense Radiohead track):

Support Artists, buy the music you like. 

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