2018 Harvest Update: September 14th

The first week of harvest is now behind us, and the season is looking to be both interesting and, at this point, of high quality. The weather is continuing with warm temperatures, despite a two-day spell where highs only made it into the 60’s, reminding us that fall is not far away. The warmth returned quickly, though, along with higher humidity and good sun. This is fueling fast ripening of the grapes, with warm nights that burn up a lot of the acid in the grapes. Temperatures that are too warm can inhibit aroma development, though, and ideally at this stage we would prefer to have cooler nights with dry, sunnier days. But, as grape farmers who have experienced more than our share of downright bad conditions, we happily accept the nearly ideal and make the best of it.

Actually, this concept of taking what we get and making the best of it is important, since it is at the heart of any discussion of the vintage. Vintage is defined as the year of harvest (not of bottling) for a wine and aggregate character of the vintage – its reputation, if you will – serves as a reference and general indicator of overall quality of any given wine. In a region like Lake Erie, classified as a cool climate, we can experience pretty wide variations between vintages. One extreme example would be the polar vortex years of 2014 and 2015 when many vineyards were lost to the extremely low temperatures in January and February. Excessively rainy years which   And within a vintage, there may be variations between early-season and later varieties like we saw last year where early season conditions were not as good and relative quality of the later ripening varieties was better than the earlier ripening ones even though the overall vintage turned out very well.

We could say that vintage variations give the winemaker the opportunity – or, from the winery owner’s perspective, the obligation – to earn their stripes. Honestly, much of the wine’s quality is set by what happens on the vine but the best winemakers are able to find the best expression of the fruit using the tools at their disposal. These include using innovative techniques and all of the helpful aids at hand to help compensate for flaws and to help guide the wine towards a desired style or balance, but also include good communication with the grower to make sure the fruit develops as best it can for the growing conditions and, perhaps most importantly having the good sense and discipline to “not get in the way” when things are going swimmingly. In good years like this one there should be less “winemaking” and more “tending to”. The French have a term for this – elevage - which means to raise, like a child, providing what is needed; allowing freedom of expression; and knowing when to step in and when to let go.

As we move into the thick of the 2018 season, we can hope for more of the same, and wish for the hurricane to move on its way any direction but north and to fizzle out quickly. This week we’ll be bringing in the Lake Erie staples, Niagara and Fredonia, along with Cayuga, Valvin Muscat (a delightful Moscato wine) and Pinot Noir. Grüner Veltliner and Dornfelder have been harvested and processed, and both are promising stellar wines.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

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