Harvest isn’t just about the moment the first grape is picked; it’s a season-long endeavor filled with hard work and dedication. I made the rounds, reaching out to our member wineries to get the scoop on everything since the last harvest. Every detail can influence the grapes’ well-being, and I’m excited to keep everyone in the loop as we dive into 2023.
As spring approached, the outlook was rather promising. New York enjoyed a fairly mild winter without prolonged freezing temperatures. The early spring days were unseasonably warm, and the only real concern was that the early warm days could force the buds to break too soon, which thankfully didn’t end up posing an issue.
What did cause concern, though, was a very late freeze in May that ended up being catastrophic for some vineyards. At the time, it was hard to say how great the loss truly was. The freeze damage was visually apparent, but what wasn’t was the potential for regrowth, and that regrowth had the ability to rejuvenate the lost crop and reclaim the 2023 vintage.
The vineyards that were farthest from the lake seemed to have been affected the most, which makes complete sense since the lakes essentially act as giant heaters that regulate the surrounding air temperature. A couple of Knapp’s vineyards that sit outside their restaurant patio, which are roughly one mile from the lake’s protection, saw 20-40% frost damage, but winemaker Vanessa Hoffman reports that they’ve recovered pretty well. “We will definitely have lighter crops from those this year, but not a total loss, which is a pleasant surprise.” Hosmer Winery had a similar experience with their Sauvignon Blanc but they anticipate only a slight decline in yield from what they would typically see.
On the opposite spectrum, Long Point Winery over on the east side of the lake suffered a 50% loss in their Chardonnay crop and didn’t see any regrowth to recoup that vintage. Owner and winemaker Gary Barletta reports that the 50% that did survive the freeze are doing well with big, beautiful clusters, so thankfully, there will still be a 2023 Chardonnay, just a smaller batch.
After the mid-May frost, we saw a bit of a dry June that made us wonder if we’d experience another dry summer like we saw in 2016. Thankfully (kind of) we ended up having what felt like a very rainy July and August. Rain IS a good thing. For starters, it has increased the size of the cluster and the berry development. Both Knapp and Hosmer have been grateful for the rain because they planted new vines this year that were struggling with the early days of the dry spring. Baby vines have little root systems and need more frequent waterings than the more established vines. This summer has provided an abundance of rain so they could do the growing they need to start producing in a few years.
The negative side of so much rain is that it’s hard to keep up with the disease pressure. In general, the more rain there is, the more important the wineries’ spray schedules are. The tool they use to combat disease requires several hours or days of no rain in order for them to work. Thankfully, this summer has mostly provided windows of time for their crews to get these tasks done, though they don’t always know if the weather will hold when they first start that particular task.
Another negative to all the rain goes along with the positive. Yes, the vines are growing rapidly with all the water but that means there are more leaves that need to be pulled to open up the canopies to help increase the sunshine and air circulation- which also combats disease naturally. This in turn means more money is spent on crews to do this work.
Another random element of surprise tossed into this season was the smokey haze caused by the Canadian wildfires in early June. California has a season for this and has seen firsthand the damage the smoke can cause. When grapes are exposed to wildfire smoke, they can develop an ashy, bitter flavor, which can lead to the grapes being left unusable. We are, yet again, thankful. The grapes weren’t developed enough to be affected by the wildfire. The only negative effect the smoke had was that many vineyard crews didn’t work during that time, since breathing outside was difficult for some, but since it was a dry time and the extra spray schedules weren’t in place yet, I’m not sure this could even be considered overly negative.
So, the most common question on visitor’s minds seems to be “When will you be picking your first grapes?” It’s certainly not a black-and-white question for anyone to answer. Depending on the factors above, harvest could start as early as now or begin at any time during September. A few select varieties have already been picked, while the others are being closely monitored almost daily. Now is the time, though, for the rain to lessen. The grapes are “vulnerable” right before harvest and too much extra water could cause them to split and lose precious juice!
If you’re hoping to catch any harvest activity yourself, it’ll be a bit difficult. The grapes prefer to be harvested in the wee hours of the morning. You’ll find the crews up at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning picking grapes. The cooler morning weather helps concentrate and preserve the fresh fruit aromas and flavors and stabilize sugar levels. You might get the opportunity to see some full bins being moved around for crushing or get to spot the harvester waiting for its next job assignment, though!