Welcome to the Heron Hill Winery Blog!
Meet our bloggers and find out what's going on at Heron Hill Winery and our other two tasting rooms on Seneca and Canandaigua Lakes! Staff members are writing about the vineyards, what's happening in the cellar, fun events, wine pairings, new releases and more.
Meet the Authors
|John Ingle||Bernard Cannac||Christina Bowe||Dave Herman|
|Tambi Schweizer||Kara Smith||Mike "Ollie" Oliver||Steve & Pam Acker|
There is a standing joke in the wine business that in Bordeaux, France, every vintage is the best ever and thus justifying raising the price. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this is not the case in the Finger Lakes of New York. Every year there seems to be some glitch that throws a wrench in to the works of what would be the best vintage ever. We’ve seen extensive winter bud kill from -20 degree temperatures; we’ve seen Spring frosts into the low twenties in May; we’ve seen hurricanes that wash out the harvest and turn a seemingly great harvest into a good harvest. There are so many things that can go awry. Wine growers must be super-resilient just to survive, not to mention excel.
2012 appeared to be another one of those years as we experienced devastating late spring frosts state-wide in early May, reducing potential crop loads by up to 25%. These difficulties were followed by localized hailstorms that actually wiped out some vineyardists’ crops. Surviving these events, we endured a summer long drought that further stressed the vines, and the farmers. As harvest approached, timely rainfall arrived and the brix (sugar) levels soared. Usually we are delighted to get 21° or 22° brix but this year brought up to 25° brix levels across the board. The rains held off and super-ripe, clean fruit arrived for crushing up to three weeks early. It was a very fast harvest with everything ready to come in at the same time. The production team scrambled and as the fermentations are now over we see – in my opinion after 40 years as a grape grower – the best year ever! Time will tell – next year we’ll know the results. Stay tuned…
They say that a vine must struggle to make great wine. If that’s the case then this year should be a great vintage. After our “winter that wasn’t” awoke the vines too early, they were smacked by frost with mid-twenties temperatures in the first week of May. There was loss of 20-50% of the crop, depending on your micro-climate. This was a situation where your location was crucial to spare you from frost damage. Heron Hill on Keuka Lake happens to be in one of the coldest, most difficult locations in the Finger Lakes and they lost about 30% of the Riesling crop. Ingle Vineyard on Canandaigua Lake is more favorable, being at lower altitude, down by the lake. There, frost damage was minimal, at 5-10%.
Last week, just as I was about halfway through my “Thank you, I’m so grateful, mother nature” soliloquy, we were broadsided by one of the most intense storms that I’ve experienced in forty years of farming. Fifteen minutes of hard driving, marble-size hail, strong winds and rain. Time stopped, you couldn’t drive or walk in this stuff. When it had blown over, the vines were beaten and bedraggled. The leaves were torn as if by cats’ claws, and the canes were snapped off half-way like they’d been hedged. There were dead leaves everywhere. In shock and dismay, I surveyed the damage. The fruit was mostly intact. We won’t know until after bloom, but there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of potential disaster.
We’ve just barely made it through May and it already seems like it’s been a long summer. After almost 40 vintages, it does seem like they tend to slip by, but one never knows what pot of gold may lie at the end of rainbow – only time will tell.
One of Mother Nature's alarm clocks is ringing. Actually it's plinging, like the sound of dripping maple sap from a spigot into a metal bucket. The pace can be slow and steady or it can be surprisingly fast, almost pouring out of the tree. To those tuned into the rhythms of nature, this is a wake up call. Here is a photo essay of an upstate maple syrup session. And that's just the first batch of what could be 4 or 5 passes!
It's December, time to turn the page. It seems as if each month has a focus, October was harvest, November has been shoveling up the dirt onto the vines to protect them throughout the winter cold and December begins the pruning that will continue until March. Hand pruning some 14,000 vines at a rate of 150/day takes all winter, almost every workday until April 1st when the "season" begins. Parallel to the vineyard work is the garden work. (And I use the term "work" in the positive sense as in project or pastime.)
Our game-plan with the garden is to work (focus) for seven months and then enjoy the fruits of our labor for the five winter months. We freeze a lot of our food; spinach, peas, corn, broccoli, beans, all freeze well. Fruits also are stored frozen or dried including pears, strawberries, peaches, raisins, etc. Mother Nature does a beautiful job preparing us for winter storage with root vegetables. Our root cellar is chockfull with potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, brussels sprouts, onions, garlic and the "best thing you never ate": celeriac!
Sprinkled with olive oil, and oven roasted at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, along with slices and chunks of the other root crop, it tastes nutty and unique like nothing you've ever had. Try it. Celeriac is also good boiled, mashed and added to mashed potatoes - ah the bounty.
For over 40 winters we've pruned the vines in the daytime and savored the fruits of our labor at night - what's wrong with that game-plan?
I often get asked "What made me go into the wine business?" Well, nothing made me, I chose to, willingly and enthusiastically. And it's funny because I can almost remember making the decision to do so. I was an English teacher in Colorado and felt there must be more for me. I had been curious about organic gardening and read books about the "farm life".
It was exactly forty years ago, in 1971, that we, my wife, Joey, and I worked in a neighbor's vineyard picking Concord grapes. As I stood on that sun drenched hillside breathing in the smells of fresh air and ripe grapes I realized this was satisfying to me. The rhythm of the work, steady and focused, the rhyme of the workers, chatting and laughing as they worked their way up and down the rows and the thought that it's vintage time! People all over the world, Europe, Australia, America, literally everywhere, were doing the same thing, harvesting grapes, to make wine. A sacramental beverage, as old as history, alive and dynamic in so many cultures and lands, it was inspirational to me. I knew that I had found my path and my loving wife has walked by my side for forty years, pursuing a career but more so, a life and lifestyle of living a "farm life".
As the summer seems to go blazing by, August approaches and brings with it the 3rd annual Finger Lakes Riesling Festival. This family-oriented event, August 13 and 14 brings together food, music, wine and fun. It's held on the north shore of Canandaigua Lake and has drawn over 20,000 participants the last two years. Heron Hill Winery is a major sponsor and will feature the entertainment at the music tent, including Prime Time Funk and Nik and the Nice Guys, two of Rochester's top bands. On Sunday morning the Campbell Brothers gospel music will fill the air with joy. One of the best parts of the festival is that entry is free. You pay to taste wine and beer, and over a dozen regional cheeses, but the music, the car show, the arts and crafts displays, etc. are all free. We're very excited about the mobile ap being offered to learn more about this great event. Learn more about Finger Lakes Riesling, groove to the tunes, bask in the sun and join your friends for two days of family fun. See you there!
Oh the promise of spring, with hope and destiny in the air. Icy fingers of winter loosen their grip and green appears among the brown of the landscape. We pray our way through the "frost period" when recalcitrant grapevines that have awakened too early feel a bitter sting for their efforts. Well into May we see the flush of buds on canes that reveal the promise of the vintage, will it be large, small, early, late, difficult or wet? We can only imagine and wonder.
So far we are about a week late in bud-break and a couple of weeks behind in spring chores, such as plowing "away" from the vines, discing new centers, etc. The great news is, we have lots o' buds, due to the wet weather! Almost 100% bud viability on the vines previews a bountiful crop. Not every vintage in the Finger Lakes is a large one, or a classic one. We take the cards and make it work. Having that promise of spring through that makes the work a little easier, the target a little clearer, as we strive to produce world-class grapes for world-class wines at Heron Hill.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is "What do you do all winter when the vines are dormant?" I can assure you, it isn't nothing. I was a youth hockey couch for 20 years in addition to working 20 acres of vineyard. We raised four kids and I was there every day to greet them off the school bus, top priority. But the constant activity through that time is the "bushwacking" of some 12,000 vines each winter for the last 40 (!) years. Simple math gives an idea of the measure of the task. I can prune 150 +/- vines a day on a good day - divide that into the 12,000 vines I've always had (until adding the 1,000 vines each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon last spring, that is 80 work days, or 14 work weeks. We finish the harvest in November, or early December when we make Icewines, then we cover the bases of the vines, called "hilling up", into December. Take out holidays, snow days, assorted projects and distractions and it's a busy winter. April 1st is our "done" date for pruning, the start of the vintage season. I will blog on that process later.
As the winter work wraps up, temperatures climb and it's time to make maple syrup. We get 5 to 10 gallons of syrup off about 60 taps. We used to burn the sap down with grape trunks. I thought I might be the only guy to do that - in the world! Another spring tradition here is cleaning the bluebird houses. Migratory as well as resident bluebirds like to pair off and prepare for nesting in March, so the houses, (we have about 50 of them) need to be clean and ready for April 1st.
Doing these and other side projects every year gets you into a pace, a rhythm, of nature and life. It can be hectic but it also brings a simple continuity that makes farm life satisfying. Soon it will be spring.
By John Ingle, Owner/Grapegrower
As always, harvest 2010 has been a wild ride. Fueled by one of the hottest, and wettest years ever, grapes ripened a month early! We were almost guaranteed a great year, it was just a matter of how far we could push our luck for further excellence. Having my wife, daughter, son-in-law and many friends help with the grape picking made it even more of a labor of love. We shared the rhythms of the harvest; hurrying, waiting, wet, dry, cold, tired, excited all mixed together and multiplied by 12 or 15 of how many pickers we had day to day.
As the season progressed we brought in wave after wave of beautiful, ripe grapes - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, all up to 26 Brix, incredible! As the Riesling ripened we got 6 days of warm monsoon-type rain and glorious green prapes turned nut brown almost overnite. It was rot! Closer inspection revealed a sweet raisening aroma and flavor...it was "Noble Rot", botrytis, Mother Nature's gift to dessert-wine lovers. The crew tightened their belts and made four different "passes" through the two acre vineyard much of the time on hands and knees picking up fallen grapes off the ground and never a peep or ugh or yuck! It was a team effort rewarded with a "piece of history". The 2010 Ingle Vineyard Bunch Select Riesling will carry memories of effort and excellence - to be shared with joy with friends and family for many years.
By Jo Ingle, Owner/Grapegrower
Our garden has been put to bed after yet another bountiful season. There is still much to do!
All through the summer months the ripened vegetables are harvested, sorted, cleaned, cut and prepared for freezing. This year has been particularly good. The long hot summer days with a bit of rain here and there, helped to make for an abundant crop of vegetables and fruits. We grow everything! Spinach, peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, corn, melons, squashes, artichokes and more. You name it, we grow it. In addition to the produce going into the freezer, we also can spaghetti sauce, bread and butter pickles from an old family recipe, and beautiful pink applesauce made especially for the grandchildren.
Winter is here. The days are short and cold. The kitchen is filled with the aroma of jellies cooking and hot paraffin melting. The freezer is full, the cupboards are packed, and we're ready to hunker down and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
By John Ingle, Owner/Grapegrower
It’s autumn in the Finger Lakes, harvest time, and I feel like I’m “sitting on a gold mine.” It has been the hottest summer in memory and the result is ultra-ripe grapes. The sweetness level is comparable to middle or late October. Half of the Pinot Noir, our “Old Field” has been picked and brought over, I bought these vines from Hermann Wiemer over 25 years ago. The other half of Pinot will be brought in tomorrow. These pictures are of the Chardonnay from “Carl’s Block”, which is a higher elevation vineyard, these grapes will be used in the Unoaked Chardonnay because they have a higher acidity. The other half of Chardonnay grapes, from “Vern’s Block” will also be brought in tomorrow. Last year, “Vern’s Block” was hit with frost, so it’s nice to see it bounce back this year.
Part of the excellence we’re seeing is due to the late frosts that reduced the crop size here in mid-May. Less fruit – more concentration, better ripening. Last year it was cold and wet – what we call a “Riesling year.” Moderate alcohol levels, nice crisp acidity, years like this in 2010 are red wine years. The heat builds ripeness, ups sugar levels, and creates more alcohol as well as more body and color in the wine. We used to only get 3 or 4 out of 10 years as red wine years (70’s and 80’s) in the Finger Lakes. So it’s very energizing to have this opportunity. Now that’s like “sitting on a gold mine.”
April 18, 2013
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Paws & Pairings benefit for the SPCA
June 8-9 & June 22-23
Barbecue at the Wineries