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.”
This has been a wild and crazy spring and summer. After dodging frosts through May we've dealt with excessive heat, rain and dry spells. Every week has seen at least one or two "gully gushers" filling Canandaigua or Keuka lakes above normal levels. The vines are thriving nonetheless and it appears to be a moderate crop size with balanced leaf to fruit ratios and very good prospects for exceptional quality levels across the board in 2010. The generous rains were well timed and and greatly appreciated by winemaker Bernard Cannac and our production team as 6 acres of Riesling, Muscat and Vidal were planted at Heron Hill and an acre each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon went in at Ingle Vineyard. Well chosen locations and carefully matched clones bode great things for future Heron Hill and Ingle Vineyard wines.
As the young vines shoot upward, the doors of Heron Hill's third tasting room fly open. Up the road from Bristol Harbor Resort, off Route 21 on the west side of Canandaigua Lake, Heron Hill at Bristol opened July 15th after over a year of work and preparation. There were many hurdles, hoops, and hassles to contend with but patience and perseverance prevailed. It was a great learning experience and it was especially the support and enthusiasm of Heron Hill fans, that carried me with the momentum to "git 'er done". With new manager Chuck Oyler on the scene along with my daughter Josie and several other enthusiastic servers, we're rarin' to bring delicious Heron Hill wine closer to Rochester and surrounding towns. Please do stop by and visit us soon!
By Bernard Cannac, Winemaker
This spring has been quite interesting so far: the latest spring frost was in mid-May, and from there the weather has been quite hot and humid.
Two weeks ago, we planted over seven acres of vines. The new planting took place mainly in front of the winery. We planted about five acres of Riesling including different clones. The diversity of the clones will bring more complexity to the wines in the future. We also planted about one acre of Muscat and one acre of Vidal Blanc, hopefully to make Icewines and Late Harvests, depending on the weather conditions.
Last fall we took some soil samples to get a soil analysis and added some lime, which was worked into the soil. In the spring, we added some natural fertilizers, which was also worked into the soil. It created a flat and smooth layer of soil for the laser planter.
We had a team of professionals come with a laser planter to make sure that the rows were at the right spacing and that the vines were planted evenly. This equipment belongs to the Hosmer Family and their partner. On the video, you can see how the planter operates. The team first makes a survey of the field, then puts markers on the field. It looks like lines of little flags with different colors. A laser beam then goes between two tripods and the photocell on the planter runs along the beam. The tractor driver has to keep the planter in line the whole time, looking at three lights: green means right in line, orange means slightly off line but acceptable and red means that the planter lost the beam. The team makes it look easy, but it takes a lot of skills to keep the ensemble in perfect alignment with an invisible laser beam. As you can see on the video, two persons feed the machine with plants, and Zac, our Vineyard Manager was walking behind the procession to make sure no vine was missing. We took turns for three days, walking in a dust cloud under the blazing sun. I have the sunburn to remind me about that weekend. It was Memorial Day weekend, and it was memorable.
For us, it has been a lot of work to get the soil ready for the planting, and now there will be a lot of work ahead of us: each vine has to have a pencil rod, so the young shoots can be lifted off the ground, we have to put the posts in the ground, then run at least one wire this season to clip the pencil rods on this lower wire.
So far the weather has been giving us enough rain, but we might have to water the plants individually in the next few days, if it doesn’t rain.
But it is a very exciting time for us, because all this work is for the foundation of a vineyard that will be there for a few decades. Once a vineyard is planted, it is very hard to change its characteristics. So we hope we did the right things and made the right decisions, because this vineyard is here to stay. It is up to us now to take good care of it, so we can get the best grapes it can produce, so we can make the best wines, for the delight of all of us.
Even though we have been busy at the vineyard, Brian has managed to get most of the wines ready for bottling. We actually bottled the 2007 Heron Hill Cabernet Franc last week. The wine is recovering from the bottling (bottle shock). It should be released in a couple of weeks. It is a solid wine, with a lot of fresh berry on the nose. It has a big body and will age beautifully. We also blended a Reserve Cabernet Franc, which will be bottled sometime in the summer.
In spring and summer, we always have something to do, inside or outside! Santé!
By John Ingle, Owner/Grapegrower
Here I go, I’m doing it again – somebody stop me. For almost forty years I’ve had a passion to plant things, especially grapevines. It was 1971 when I first noticed this proclivity. My wife, Joey, and I were recent college grads and were picking up a few bucks helping our neighbor harvest his grapes. We fell in love with the whole experience and cleared some twenty acres of land in preparation to plant grapevines. It was like jumping out of a window without looking. We weren’t farmers and the learning curve was steep. Since then we’ve ripped out vineyards and replanted them – over and over. We’ve also had large gardens every year since our 1971 start. I just love to plant, love to grow, love to harvest. So, this year we are planning a new plantation of vines at Heron Hill on Keuka Lake.
I’ve had some of the oldest vines in the East planted in 1968 but old age and bad weather led to the demise of some 7-8 acres. The last two years we’ve been plowing and preparing the soil and this May in will go over 8,000 vines. The project will include Riesling, Muscat and Vidal varieties in several different clones. There also will be two acres, one each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon at our Canandaigua Vineyard. It will be a big job but we’re very excited about the wines that will be produced at Heron Hill. At least this time I have some 40 years of farming experience to help me with my “growing” pains!
By John Ingle, Owner/Grapegrower
I could blog about the assorted sources of stress in the “idyllic” life of a winery owner. Or I could rant about the hassles, hurdles and roadblocks encountered in dealing with government, laws and politics when trying to provide alcohol to the masses. Instead I’m returning to my roots and talking about grapevines.
I love being in the vineyard, it’s always different and always the same. There is a cyclical process that occurs over a year’s time and for grapevines, it’s call a “vintage”. Each vintage is different with the type of weather and growing season Mother Nature deals and it’s the same in that the recurring tasks and procedures required to yield the best grapes are quite similar each year.
It is now late January and for the 38th year in a row, I am in the vineyard pruning grapevines. People ask what do you do in the winter as a winery owner? Go to Vegas? Au Contraire, it’s the balmy breezes of negative digit wind chill readings that greet me each morning or I stand bundled up like an Eskimo to whack away at some 150+ grapevines a day.
Each year a vine will produce long canes, 2 to 6 feet, with buds or internodes along each cane, up to 200 buds per vine. If these canes aren’t cut back, the vine will over produce and shut down. The 150 buds must be cut back to 20-50 buds to “balance” the vine’s leaf surface with the crop load. You can get a bigger than normal crop one year but you probably won’t the next year.
Pruning 1 acre, about 600+ vines a week means I have twenty weeks to hand prune my vines myself, take out weekends, holidays, white outs or freezing weather and I’m busy from December 1st to April 1st. I’m tired just thinking about it. But I do love it, each vine, creating the “balance”. I feel like an artist.
I recently answered some questions from Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report, a blog devoted to New York Wines. Here’s a link to his online article: Q&A with John Ingle, Owner of Heron Hill Winery.
By Bernard Cannac, Winemaker
The 2009 harvest has been “interesting” for me, to say the least. I started it on Long Island, but continued and finished it in the Finger Lakes. It is easier to start a new job at a winery at a more quiet time, but I was up for the challenge.
The 2009 vintage has been full of challenges on its own: the weather hasn’t been cooperating all season long, too much rain in the spring, not enough heat and sun in the summer, an early frost... But nature doing things well, the fact of having rain during flowering induced a smaller than expected crop, which in turn was able to reach ripeness precisely because it was a small crop given the circumstances.
So all in all, I am very happy with the quality of the 2009 wines at Heron Hill Winery. The fact that it was a smaller harvest made it even easier for me to adjust to my new environment, and all my co-workers made it even easier. A big thank you to all the employees at Heron Hill, from production to retail and office, for welcoming me into the clan. I also feel honored by the trust owner John Ingle has put in me. We tasted the 2009 wines last week, and John was pleased by the results: it is always gratifying for me to see people enjoy the wines we have crafted in the cellar.
Now that the last whites are gently finishing fermenting, and the reds are waiting to get into barrels, I can take some time to discover the area. I have to say, my wife and I love Hammondsport. The village is only a couple of miles from the winery. We love to walk around the square and do some shopping, or just sit on a bench and enjoy the ambiance. It is an ideal place for a getaway weekend, and I am fortunate that it is where I live now, just a few steps away from Keuka Lake. What can I say? I love it here and I love the snow! Some of my co-workers think I am nuts…
By John Ingle, Owner/Grapegrower
The end of the harvest season is a time of mixed emotions. There is the feeling of satisfaction and completeness as another vintage comes full cycle and all the work – pruning, tying, cultivating, picking, etc. yields the bounty of a successful harvest. There is the apprehension as to how the wine will turn out. Will the Rieslings and Chardonnays be crisp and bright, will the Pinot Noirs and Cabernets be rich and bold, will the dessert wines be tantalizing? As the baton is passed from grower to winemaker, there is a bond and a trust that is renewed and cemented every year.
Along with the completion of the vineyard harvest, there is also the grand finale of the garden growing season. The freezer is full of bags of peas, spinach, beans and all kinds of berry fruits. The root cellar is loaded up with potatoes, carrots, parsnips, cabbages, onions and brussels sprouts. The little freezer has sweet cider and grape juice, frozen so that it will be as fresh and delicious all winter as it was the day it was pressed. It all adds up to a lot of work that has been accomplished and the prospect of a long, cold winter enjoying the fruits and bounties of our labor. The cycle of life: plan-work-produce-enjoy-plan again.
By John Ingle, Winery Owner
Fall is my favorite season. I love the peace of winter, the promise of spring, the activity of summer, but the bounty of the harvest is what makes Autumn so rewarding. When you throw in the beautiful colors, the crisp air and all the food from the garden and it’s a soul-satisfying time of year. Right now we’re eating sweet, fragrant melons, plum cabbages, nutty winter squash, apples and seedless grapes.
All the planning last winter, the planting last spring, the hoeing and mulching this summer pays off in fruits and vegetables to freeze, store and eat fresh. Going into October we’re focused on the harvest in the vineyard as well. Slowly, day-by-day, the brix (sugar level) increases and we taste the berries for signs of maturation. It’s a waiting game, greatly influenced by Mother Nature, requiring patience and a positive attitude.
Right now it appears that Pinot Noir will be picked first – they look clean and ripe but need another week. The bees like Pinot Noir and cause more damage than one would imagine. Next will be Chardonnay, already turning gold and plump – a tougher grape that can take some rain or cold if need be. Later in the season, the Cabernet Franc which is very slow to turn blue and ripen this year will be picked and finally our beloved Riesling. It will probably be November before the Riesling is ready to go. We also have plans to make Icewine so this will be a long, busy, patient fall.