Monday, July 4, 2011

Update from the Vineyard

With the July sun warming us through here on Seneca Lake, it's time for a quick update on how the growing season is treating our vineyards thus far.  Peter in particular would note that he is a bit cynical about the whole process of trying to forecast the quality of a vintage based on a few weeks of weather; you may remember that he is even hesitant to discuss the quality and direction of a vintage the following May.  It must be said that this certainly represents a very practical way of assessing the grapes and resulting wines: wines take time to come into their own and, even in a brilliant growing season, grape quality can be ruined in an instant after a single tantrum by Mother Nature.

His cynicism on forecasting the upcoming vintage when we are just into July is also the result of being pestered too many times by earnest reporters looking for a quick story in May or June about how great the coming harvest is going to be.  If you or I knew what the weather was going to be like from now through October, I guarantee we would be in a more lucrative industry than grape growing and winemaking.  Having said all that, however, the issue need not be black and white.  Without trying to become Nostradamus, here is a look at what has happened so far and how the vines have responded.

As of July 2, the Finger Lakes had accumulated, during the growing season (that is, starting when the buds emerge from dormancy) 969 growing degree days. That's about a week ahead of the long term average -- in a 'typical' year, that figure would not be reached until July 9. But a visual examination of the vines indicates that we are closer to average than that: the key phenological event of early summer, bloom, occurred right on schedule.

Disease pressure is almost always on the high side in a cool and wet growing region such as ours, but despite lots of early season rain and cold, the vines this year are looking very healthy throughout the Finger Lakes. (Our thanks goes to Dr. Hans Walter-Peterson of Cornell University for his help here.)

We may be able to get a broad-brush feeling for the size of this year's crop in the next few weeks, though  carrying out a successful crop estimation (one that is close to the actual figures we get at harvest time) is notoriously difficult, and can seem, at times, to be based more on sorcery than science. There's even a story out there, most certainly not fictional, that one prominent vineyard manager has better results using a pair of dice to estimate the crop levels in his various blocks than anything like counting clusters!

And let's remember: crop size and wine quality are not particularly closely correlated, despite what amateurs can read in books on wine. For now, and for the next months, it's best to stay busy with vineyard and winery tasks and not fuss too much about divinations.

Oops, gotta go: a reporter is on the phone wanting to know how the wines are shaping up for this year.

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