2018 Harvest Update: September 6th

Rassie Vineyards Gewürztraminer

Rassie Vineyards Gewürztraminer

Last week I was standing next to a Concord vineyard and got my first big sensory cue that harvest is about to begin: the air smelled like Welch’s grape juice. Of course, I already knew that we were soon to start bringing in grapes; – vineyard visits and grape samples had brought this fully to my attention – but there is nothing like that first hit of grape smells permeating the air to really bring it home.

With recent conditions being generally warmer than usual and reasonably sunny and dry, we are running a touch early this year. As it is, tomorrow, first thing in the morning, we will be pressing our first load of grapes. Bacchus, a German variety bred from Riesling, Silvaner and Müller Thurgau, takes the honors this year. Bacchus is a wonderful grape with an exuberant fruitiness grown for us by John, Cindy and Mike Moorhead, and they have supplied us with this variety since the early 1980’s (at least). It will be a small pressing, with the juice destined to become a key part of the blend for our award-winning Falling Waters sparkling wine.

Later in the day, we’ll be processing Gewürztraminer from Alan Rassie’s vineyard. This variety can often be a heartbreaker. It has small, very tight clusters that, in overly wet years, can develop internal rot that destroys the grapes. No problems with that happening this year, though, and we see a very nice wine developing that you won’t want to miss.
In general, it appears that we are a little ahead of our normal harvest times, if only by a couple of days. The long-range weather forecast for September is calling for above normal temperatures, and only intermittent wet periods. This sounds lip-lickingly good to me—this period of ripening after veraison is critical, and not enough sun or too much rain and humidity can undo the benefits from favorable conditions earlier in the year. That’s not likely happening this year, though, so harvest 2018 is looking like a very happy story.
Looking ahead, we’ll be in full swing with Niagara, Fredonia, and Seyval this next week, having fresh Niagara and Fredonia grapes available on the weekend of the 15th (by preorder, please) and juices available starting on Monday, 9/17.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

2018 Harvest Update: August 17th

2018 Pinot Noir

2018 Pinot Noir

Right after the last report at the end of July, the general weather pattern changed into what I would describe as typical for late August and September. It cooled off a little, but mostly it just clouded up with a constant threat of rain, and then stayed that way. We missed the heavy rains that hit southern PA (one vineyard there reported 13″ of rain in three days–yikes!) and the Finger Lakes, but the reduced sunlight and higher humidity are still factors that are affecting us.

I’m happy to report, though, that our growers are on top of things, and are keeping the vineyards as free from disease as is possible. A big concern now is weed control. July’s dry spell kept them pretty much in check, but once the rain came more frequently, weeds started growing like gangbusters. The problem with this is that weeds growing under the vine interrupt airflow in the vineyard, keeping moisture longer in the canopy and on the fruit. This, in turn, provides opportunity for mold and mildew growth which not only affects the condition of the fruit, but also the vine’s ability to ripen the crop if the leaves are damaged. Despite all of this, mold and mildew are generally under control and we’re still looking at a good harvest. We are on time, if not a little bit ahead of schedule.

2018 Cab Franc

2018 Cab Franc

Speaking of timing, some of the early varieties are now in veraison. This is the point in fruit development where color develops in red varieties, the berries have attained their full size, and the focus of vine activity shifts from growing shoots and leaves to ripening fruit and hardening off the shoots for winter. In the first photo to the left you can see Pinot Noir – which ripens at the end of September – in the beginning of veraison. Notice the variation in color of the berries. The second photo is of Cabernet Franc, which doesn’t ripen until the end of October. These berries are all still green in color as they are a few weeks away from veraison. For reference, both of these photos were taken on Aug 17.

The period between veraison and harvest is particularly crucial to fruit quality–excess rain and clouds, and/or too little heat and sun will interfere with ripening (accumulation of sugar, degradation of malic acid, and development of aromatic compounds), and have a more profound effect on the wine produced than conditions pre-veraison. So we’ll be crossing our fingers, watching the weather closely, and we will be visiting the vineyards more as we get closer to the actual days of harvest. We hope for lots of warm sunny days in the next few weeks, with just enough rain every now and then to keep the vines happy and healthy. If we get nature’s co-operation on that front, we will be looking at a really nice harvest.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

2018 Harvest Update: July 16th

2018 Growing Season Notes and Observations

July 16, 2018

It was a long winter. We had a lot of snow.

Leading up to May 1 this year, everything seemed to be delayed in the vineyard. Temperatures were still dipping into the low 40’s at the end of April, and yes, there was still a threat of snow. Grapevines grow only when the temperature is above 50° F, and we had very few days when the temperature exceeded that. To illustrate this, growers use “Growing Degree Days” (GDD) to give an indication of how much the temperature is above this 50° point by providing a running total of the number of degrees the average daily temperature exceeds 50°. Comparing 2017 to 2018 shows a big difference between 2017 (with a warm spring, and 167 GDDs) and 2018 (with almost no spring as of May 1, and 41 GDDs).

May 1 marked the beginning of spring and the growing season for us. The weather suddenly went from cold spring to full-blown summer: the high temperature recorded on April 30 was 60° with a low of 30°; May 1 had a high of 76° with a low of 50°. Temperatures stayed high—in the 70’s and 80’s—throughout the month, with the exception of a few days where it fell below average. We can see this reflected with 86 GDDs accumulated from May 1 – 7. (It’s interesting to note that there were only 8 GDDs recorded for this period in 2017, when we entered a period with below normal temperatures for almost a month.)

The net effect of the temperature pattern was that we came into spring with the sense that we were in for a late season, but early May temperatures quickly changed that. The warm weather and well-timed rain gave the vines a kick in the pants, and we not only caught up, but are seeing vine growth that is almost out of hand, with a lot of canopy and abundant growth. Temperatures have continued to be warm. June was fairly wet, but not excessively so, and we are currently getting close to being in a drought situation with rain on its way according to the forecast. Grapes don’t need much rain, in any case.

Fruit set—the period when the flowers turn into viable berries—occurred in favorable conditions, so clusters are full of berries, another requirement for a large crop. If the weather holds favorably, we could be looking at good, large vintage. The critical time occurs after veraison, beginning in Mid-August (not so far away!) for early varieties, and a lot can happen before harvest.

I’ll be starting vineyard visits this week—preliminary scouting trips to mostly talk with growers about conditions and crop projections. More information will follow, along with pictures of the vines and young fruit. These updates will spread out for a while, and then when harvest begins, there will be more frequent updates and observations.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

2017 Harvest Update: October 27th

Touriga Nacionale Grape to be used in our PortThe warm and sunny weather held throughout the week, though it is likely to change for the weekend. Harvest—at least the part that involves bringing in grapes from the vineyard—is winding down. A few more loads will arrive next week and then we can sit back and see what we have, for a few moments anyway, and then it’s back to work tending the young wines.

The late season reds, Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, came in as expected—very ripe—and they are beginning their transition into wine in fermenters now. They will be pressed next week, and we’ll then be able to get a full sense of what this vintage really holds. The reds that were harvested last week were pressed, and we’re really excited with the results. Some have made their way into barrel already and are finishing up alcohol fermentation; inoculation with malo-lactic bacteria will follow to continue the natural process of transforming these grapes into great wine. Our Cabernet Sauvignon growers, Cindy, John and Mike Moorhead, were of the opinion that their grapes could hang a little longer to take full advantage of our perfect harvest weather and so we’re waiting patiently and excitedly for them to arrive from the vineyard. This year’s Cabernet Sauvignon vintage promises to be remarkable.

Vidal Blanc is a late-season white wine variety that does quite well in the Eastern United States and Canada. It is a versatile grape, capable of producing wines that range from dry and barrel-aged to sweet and rich ice wines harvested after the grapes freeze on the vine. Our Kisses Trio of ice-style wines —Eskimo Kisses, Hot Kisses and Cinnful Kisses—are made from this variety, and Vidal is also a key player in a few of our popular blends. It, too, is benefiting from the spectacular harvest weather we’ve had with high sugars, low acids and ripe, tropical fruitiness. We started bringing Vidal in this week, along with another stalwart Eastern variety, Catawba. Seeing these grapes arrive at the winery is like seeing robins in late winter—you know that the end is near and wonderful things are ahead. In the case of harvest, it signals the winding down of this phase of winemaking; the crusher and press will be cleaned and stored away until next September, and activity moves from the press pad back to the wine cellar.

We were exceptionally fortunate this harvest. The weather cooperated in ways that it normally doesn’t, and we had a good-sized crop of exceptional quality for most varieties. Others in our industry were not so fortunate—wild fires devastated the heart of the American wine industry in California, and our thoughts are with them. Their harvest was interrupted by the destructive fires, and they are now assessing what can be saved of those grapes that are still hanging while they rebuild homes, businesses and neighborhoods. Closer to home, heavy rains wrought havoc on vineyards in southern Pennsylvania, ultimately compromising the quality of their grapes at harvest.

Like I said, we were fortunate, and we’re thankful for it as we know it will be our turn to face adversity again at some point in these times of increasing climatic variance and more dramatic climatic extremes. We know this only too well as our vineyards are only just now recovering fully from the devastation of the previously unseen frigid weather periods during the 2014 and 2015 winters.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

2017 Harvest Update: October 20th

The focus this past week has been on the late-season reds; pressing the early varieties that were harvested last week, and tracking progress of those varieties still hanging. Cabernet Franc, Blaufränkisch and Carmine have been in the fermenters this past week, and were pressed off the skins today. They are as we expected: deeply colored, nicely tannic, and with a full expression of fruit. Early next week we’ll be barreling some of these wines to begin aging. Yet again, patience will be called for with these wines—watch for them in 2019 and they will be worth the wait!

Late Season Merlot

Late Season Merlot

Speaking of barrels, we are excited to have started a small batch of barrel-fermented reserve Chardonnay in our 500L (132 gal) Mercier French oak puncheons. These barrels have the advantage of a much higher volume to surface area ratio, which allows us to realize a more restrained extraction of oak flavor without sacrificing the benefits of micro-oxidation from extended time in the barrel. Fermentation in the barrel also has a positive effect on the oak uptake; yeast and malolactic bacteria increase the integration of oak extractives into the wine, ultimately reducing the intensity of the oak. An additional benefit to barrel fermentation is the opportunity to have the wine age on the dead yeast (lees). It may not sound like a positive thing, but sur lies aging, as it’s known in France, is a traditional method for enhancing the mouthfeel (texture) of the finished wine. As the yeast cells break down, components of the yeast cell walls are released into the wine, adding body and structure to the wine.

Now we get to enjoy the blessings of two great years in a row. In order to make room for a glorious future wine in these barrels, we must first avail ourselves of a formidable present one. The 2016 vintage will be bottled soon and released after a short period of rest.

Finally, we’re still watching the last of the red varieties—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, the last of the Cabernet Franc, and Chambourcin—that are still in the vineyard. Next week’s weather is finally looking like a proper fall (though we’re not complaining about the unseasonable weather to date), and this most likely will force us to bring these varieties in. The season’s journey to this point has been grand, and we really couldn’t ask for much more from the vines, grapes or growers. The skins are starting to soften to the point that disease can easily take hold, but that also means that the tannins will be soft and supple. Sugars have been increasing and acids have been dropping, and vegetative flavors are going away to be replaced by ripe fruitiness. We will be harvesting these reds beginning early in the week and we’ll be looking forward to some great wines to come.