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Bernard Cannac
April 18, 2013 | Bernard Cannac

Tying one on: from France to the Finger Lakes

First, I have to say that it was a pleasure to be able to spend some time with my family and friends back home, in Southern France. The weather was fairly warm and sunny for the most part, which allowed my wife and I to drive in the country side, visiting a couple wineries. But I have to say that most of our time was spent eating and drinking with my family and close friends.

Back at Heron Hill, we are pretty much done pruning, apart from our block of Muscat Ottonel. The main job right now is tying the Riesling vines: on the producing blocks, the shoot we selected during pruning as our fruit bearers have to be tied on the fruit wires; on the plantings, the shoots selected to become the trunks of the mature vine have to be tied to the pencil rods to help them grow vertically.

For the Muscat Ottonel, we have decided to wait until late April to prune it. It is very sensitive to spring frost, and the location where these vines are planted can get very cold in the spring nights. Pruning later will delay bud-break, when the buds of the shoots we retained to bare fruit will come out of dormancy and open up. Throughout the growing season, the buds will become the new shoots, with leaves and grape clusters. That is if they survive the frost bites of these freezing spring nights! Last year in New-York State, bud-break was early due to a soft winter and early warm weather. But from late April to mid-May, the temperatures dropped during the night, as far as the mid twenties, at least in the Finger Lakes! The buds that were out of their winter coat got toasted by the frost. Our Muscat was particularly affected.

In the cellar, we have been busy putting the 2012 reds in barrels, while bottling e few older reds: Eclipse red 2010, Ingle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010… And we just bottled a Riesling Late Harvest, “Bunch Select” 2010. For this wine, the concentration was not obtained by picking the grapes frozen, like an Ice Wine, or by having the grapes hang long enough so some water from the berries would evaporate, like a traditional Late Harvest, but with the help of a friendly fungus: Botrytis Cinerea. The fungus grows on the berry and absorbs all the water it needs, along with a few nutrients of course. This fungus needs particular weather conditions to grow properly without ruining the fruit. It needs fog in the morning and sunshine in the afternoon, and the berries have to be whole, undamaged by birds, deer or bruised by vineyard equipment. The berries whose the skin has been ripped and the juice exposed will turn into grey rot, giving and off flavor to the wine. In 2010 we were blessed by finding Botrytis Cinerea growing homogenously on a Riesling block, but growing in “a nice way”, the “Noble rot” way. The grapes had to be picked berry by berry and in three successive passes until the weather got too cold for the fungus to continue its “magic”. The result is a wonderfully balanced wine with a very complex nose. When you taste it, whatever scent you think it has, you cannot be wrong, because it’s in there!


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