Keuka Lake wineries expect decreases
TRI-COUNTY AREA (9/14/2016)--While the hot, dry weather across the region has contributed to an exceptionally good grape quality anticipation for this year, the overall yield is still in question for many Finger Lakes wineries. Due to the drought and damage from previous winters, several Keuka Lake area wineries are projecting double-digit decreases for their grape intake.
Art Hunt, owner of Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport, estimated his overall yield to be anywhere from 10 to 25 percent down this year. The vineyard will officially begin their harvest this week. He said while it varies from type to type, some varieties are "remarkably smaller" than normal. Hunt attributes this smaller size to the drought conditions, noting they had some younger vines scattered among older vines they had to water throughout the summer.
"This is the longest drought I can recall in my 43 years," Hunt said, adding the dry weather began earlier than normal as well.
Hunt said they bring in 12 varieties of grapes during their harvest, which he expects to take another five to six weeks to fully complete, depending upon the weather. He said while some light rain may help, if they get too much rain at once, it could cause some of the grapes to burst. Hunt expects the grapes they do bring in, however, to be excellent quality.
Keuka Spring Vineyards in Penn Yan are reporting an even greater anticipated decrease in their yield, putting projections anywhere from 30 to 40 percent lower. Owner Len Wiltberger said they expect to begin their harvest this week as well, highlighting a poor fruit set and smaller berries than usual.
"I think [the harvest] will be measurably lower, maybe dramatically," Wiltberger said. "Our expectations are not the best."
Wiltberger said along with the drought, the vines are still recovering from two difficult winters which have also had negative impacts upon growth. However, he said the warm, dry weather has also contributed to a higher quality grape, adding they have had no disease problems with their produce. Wiltberger estimated their harvest will be completed by the end of October.
Farther west, Hazlitt's Red Cat Cellars in Naples has already begun their harvest as of Thursday, Sept. 8. Tim Benedict said they are also expecting a lower yield, noting the berry size is 20 to 30 percent smaller. He added the fruit is also ripening one to two weeks ahead of normal.
"The weather in September and October is what makes or breaks us," Benedict said. "A little rain would help."
Benedict said grapes respond quickly to rainfall, adding they could get more size rapidly if there were more rain. He said the freeze damage some of the vines sustained has also played a contributing factor long-term, adding freeze damage has been spotty for vineyards all over the Finger Lakes region. Benedict also added there have been some pop-up showers that have allowed some vineyards to "limp along" better than others.
"This is not our first rodeo," Benedict said. "The grape vines are resilient and we are too."
However, some of the vineyards closer to Seneca Lake appear to have a better outlook for their harvest projections.
Fox Run Owner Scott Osborn said the yield for this year is difficult to predict. He said some cluster weights are down a little bit for some varieties, but it is still hard to tell until they begin picking. Otherwise, Osborn said what they have seen so far indicates "a pretty normal harvest."
"Right now, everything is looking good," Osborn said. "We could always use a little more rain, but at this point, the fruit is looking very, very sweet, clean and nice flavors are starting to appear."
Osborn said Fox Run will be bringing in around 10 varieties of grapes this year. He said they will begin their harvest Sunday, Sept. 18, adding it is difficult to tell when they will finish due to things like the drought, but it normally takes three to four weeks.
Owner of Atwater Estate Vineyards in Burdett Ted Marks said while it was a close call, they got enough rain to put their yields ahead of projections.
"The rains came exactly in time for us," Marks said, noting things could have been different with one more week without rain. He said the grape yields have been on a decline for the past two years due to rough winters. He added he is "amazed, considering the heat we had." Marks said the harvest began Friday, Sept. 9, and will likely be completed one or two weeks ahead of schedule for their 16 varieties.
While Dave Whiting of Red Newt Cellars in Hector said some vineyards are "a bit starved for water," other vineyards are looking great. Whiting said his overall outlook for the harvest is a positive one, mentioning they expect to begin their harvest this week. He said the volume of the harvest should be fairly typical, but may even be up from last year.
"Things look great so far," Whiting said. "We have had a beautiful summer with a lack of disease and mildew pressure."
The vineyard owner said the sunny weather and dry summer means the grapes are sweeter than normal. Whiting anticipated a fairly quick harvest, lasting anywhere from four to six weeks. He said they bring in half a dozen varieties of grapes, with three-quarters of their grapes being Riesling.