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Wineries look for a good harvest

FINGER LAKES--Despite the challenging grape growing weather in August, many area wineries say they're looking forward to a good harvest this year.
"It's very much been a tale of two seasons," says Morten Hallgren, owner and winemaker for Ravines Wine Cellars, with tasting rooms in Hammondsport and Geneva. Hallgren's grapes come from vineyards at both ends of Seneca Lake as well as from Keuka Lake. "Right through the end of July, the weather was very warm and very, very dry. Then August and September, warm but considerably wetter. In the Finger Lakes you often have to take a long view of things and in the end it kind of averages out."
Hallgren says he's pretty fortunate that no vineyard sites were affected by torrential rains, though many got more rain than they'd expect within a short period of time. Luckily, those that did were well-drained. At the time of the flooding in the Finger Lakes, Hallgren was visiting family in Denmark, saw photos of the area online and was alarmed.
"It definitely resulted in an increase in berry size," he says. "Not like last year which was off the charts in cluster size. We also had August rains last year, not quite as heavy but sustained. The big difference was timing. Here the vines were further along and picked up quite a bit of water." Comparing the ripening and grape sugars, he notes 2018 is ahead of last year--but significantly behind 2016, which was "probably the hottest and driest grape growing season," he says. In recent weeks, like other winemakers, he's noticed that ripening has slowed a bit, but he says it's still ahead of long term averages in ripening. "And that in itself promises a good growing season.
"We're not rushing to harvest any varieties. In fact, picking riesling this coming weekend is very average for us. In terms of timing it looks like normal. We expect fruit quality to be better than last year--well above average for the Finger Lakes." And while some varieties like hot, dry summers, "I don't think hot and dry favors riesling. I think a year like this might even favor riesling more."
"We're beginning to see some disease pressure and things are definitely taking their sweet time ripening," says Justin Boyette, co-owner and winemaker for the Hector Wine Company. "There's a lot the vineyard people will need to do to keep things safe until they're ready to be picked. And the grapes will require more attention than some vintages. But for the most part, the fruit is hanging clean. Most things look pretty good and if Mother Nature's kind to us, we should have a great harvest."
Still finishing his pre-harvest bottling, Tom Prejean of Prejean Winery in Penn Yan has not yet begun harvest, though he can tell the sugars in his chardonnays are rising. "Right now my biggest problem is birds," he says. "There's a lot of pressure this time of year because the grapes are softer, and you worry about moisture and humidity. But right now everything is real clean." Having gotten a mere 2.5 inches of rain during the August downpour that devastated other areas, he says it was "nothing the grapes couldn't handle."
In some respects, growers' optimism resembles that of gardeners, even if a comparison between grapes and tomatoes isn't completely fair. Each year brings its own challenges, with very wet weather bringing the worry of splitting and rotting fruit or dry weather causing leaves to wither and a smaller harvest. However, a warm, dry harvest season is always welcome--and it's not yet clear whether that's in the forecast.
"Everything seems to be in the same boat--it's all going slow," Boyette says. "This year's crop might require more attention than some vintages--might require more attention than other vintages." In the meantime, he has a request for better weather. "It needs to stop raining," he says. "We'll be in a good place if the weather cooperates."

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