Walking out of the vineyard with sticky fingers and a purple mouth, it's shaping up to be a fantastic 2019 vintage. We had setbacks early on with some rot from the rain in the Pinot Noir. We dropped almost a ton of grapes into buckets to be added to compost, then made some beautiful juice from the remainder. Shortly after, we picked what was left of Pinot Noiron September 30th. It was a smaller quantity but the numbers look great.
The other varieties are looking absolutely beautiful. A little over 10 tons of Chardonnay grapes were bright gold and came in at 21.7° brix at harvest on October 10th and 11th. We picked about 1.5 tons of Merlot on Saturday the 12th followed by Blaufrankisch on Monday and Tuesday. The Blaufrankisch grape bunches were a beautiful deep purple and the crop was of good size and great quality. We worked hard to pick them so we could get them off the vine before the expected rain.
We picked Cabernet Sauvignon Friday morning and we still have Cabernet Franc and Riesling hanging and those will be picked within the week. We plan to leave some rows of Riesling to hang on the vines a bit longer to make a late harvest this year, which is always a great addition to our lineup of Rieslings.
After three years of super cold winters, devastating spring frosts and greatly reduced grape yields, 2016 was a relatively benign winter with minimal frost incidents and, thankfully, a normal to above normal crop size. Throw in a hot, dry summer and we have a recipe for a superb harvest. The reds have deep color and robust flavors, the whites are full bodied and rich and our first dry rosés in over ten years are very intriguing. Great cause for excitement and celebration. Going into 2017, our fortieth vintage, we have great wines in the tanks and barrels and exciting plans for the new year including our first Grüner Veltliner wine, an anniversary celebration and two dry rosé offerings. As the winter progresses we will develop these projects in plan for a memorable 2017 for all.
Thanksgiving at the Ingle home is a perfect opportunity to share the Ingle Vineyard lifestyle with family and friends. Being an avid gardener as well as a grape grower, Thanksgiving is all about homegrown. The festivities begin with Ingle Vineyard Chardonnay unoaked, our favorite wine! Crisp and refreshing with complex flavors of apple and lemon, it satisfies the palate. As we move into the dinner mode our thoughts turn to turkey and a versatile red such as the just released Ingle Vineyard Merlot Reserve 2013. A bright and juicy wine with medium body and a silky mouthfeel that will nicely complement the assorted organic homegrown delicacies such as sweet peas, mashed potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes (yes, all from our Finger Lakes garden) and stuffing made with our carrots, celery, herbs and raisins. Traditional and time-tested flavors. For dessert we look forward to our organic apple cider pie paired with a delicious Ingle Vineyard Icewine 2010. This is a luscious wine that has an intriguing aroma of glycerine followed by creamy sweet flavors of quince and pear – nice foil for the pie.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it’s all about family, sharing, counting our blessings and enjoying our home. All recommended wines are available at our three tasting rooms and online at heronhill.com. Enjoy!
Heron Hill Winery, Heron Hill Tasting Room at Bristol, and Heron Hill Tasting Room on Seneca Lake are closed on Thanksgiving Day, however please join us for Small Business Saturday. Visit any one of our three locations on November 28th for storewide wine discounts and holiday cheer.
The harvest season plods along, day-to-day, vineyard-to-vineyard, weather report to report -- it’s hurry up then wait. This convoluted vintage of freezing winter, wet summer, hot September and now cooperative October weather has brought in some beautiful grapes. The scant harvest (1.2 tons) of Pinot Noir brought exciting brix (sugar) levels and great jammy flavors. The Chardonnay, again a scant quantity (8.5 tons) was declared "perfect" by winemaker Barry Tortolon. Now we are into the Riesling. Finally good quantities to go with exceptional quality. The 7.5 inches of rain we had in June helped to develop Botrytis (the "noble rot"). We hope this block of Riesling brings a very interesting dessert wine. Next will be Merlot, then Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, late harvest and icewine.
Winemaker Barry Tortolon inspecting Chardonnay from Ingle Vineyard; checking Brix in the early morning; clean & ripe Riesling from Keuka Lake.
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Even as the pulse of the spring chores accelarates in our vineyards along Canandaigua Lake, I pause to reflect on the maple syrup harvest that already seems some time ago. We tapped the trees in mid-February as we usually do. There was a brief warm spell that yielded five gallons of sweet, light amber syrup. After that is was cold, cold, cold, well into mid March. We harvested another 15 gallons from our seventy taps but being as late as it was, the syrup was noticeable darker. Toward the end of the season the maple trees bring more solids up from the roots causing the darker color. Old time Vermonters know that this darker syrup isn’t the favorite choice of syrup connoisseurs but that it does have more flavor and viscosity, so they gladly charge tourists top price for light amber syrup while they smile and enjoy the darker stuff. We ended up with a large yield after all – about 20 gallons – and the cupboards are full awaiting visiting grandchildren. So begins the growing season of 2014 – promising challenges and opportunities as we await bud break at Ingle Vneyard with possibilities of extensive bud kill. Time will tell how severe the damage is—probably by mid-May we'll have a better sense.
The master about to give his product his critical taste test. Fresh maple syrup for a morning staff meeting at the Winery.
October is always a crazy busy month, except for last year. By the first week of October in 2012 we were done - finished - with the harvest. An early spring - dry, hot summer and smallish crop led to a two to three week early harvest. It was bizarre - but good. 2013 is almost the opposite. A late spring, cool damp summer and a large crop has made us two to three weeks behind schedule. Actually, mid-October, we've just started. We brought in 22 degrees Brix Pinot Noir early this week and are now almost done with the Chardonnay.
(Some of the Heron Hill Harvest Crew on the press pad; Zeb & Bernard with crushed Pinot Noir)
The damp summer led to many mildew problems. I have talked to growers who had to spray 15 to 20 times for assorted diseases. The average is 6 to 10 times so there was a lot of mildew pressure. Ingle Vineyard, under the supervision of Vineyard Manager Kyle Franzoni and assistant Zeb Archer, has managed to bring a large crop of ultra-ripe, super clean grapes to the press deck. The Heron Hill vineyard, managed by Don Riesenberger, is also looking awesome. Brix (sugar) levels are over 20 degrees and up to 22 degrees. This will bring bold, tasty wines with great depth and character.
Last weekend we shared the harvest duties with sweepstakes winner Jaime Murphy, and her husband James. Not only were they a delight to work with but they really pulled their weight in the vineyard, keeping up with the well-seasoned crew we have. It was a gorgeous day in the Finger Lakes and hand-picking beautiful Pinot Noir, enjoying a vineyard picnic of all organic, home-grown fruits and vegetables, followed by supervising the activities on the press deck at the winery made for a very memorable day for all. Thanks to everyone who helped put this great Heron Hill experience together: Elke, Erin, Kate, Bernard, and especially Sales Director Eric Frarey who came up with this great idea.
(Sweepstakes winners having lunch in the vineyard; Sweepstakes winners receive certificates from owner John Ingle and sales director Eric Frarey after a successful day.)
As we watch for the rest of the harvest to occur we are full of exuberance and pride as the fruits of our labor promise great things in the bottle!
(John Ingle with Sweepstakes winners at Ingle Vineyard)
The 2013 harvest is imminent. Some early varieties such as the seedless, are already ripe and others are progressing nicely with Brix (sugar) levels at 16-18 degrees: the goal is to get to 22 degrees, that would make well balanced wines. They say grapes ripen about 1 degree per week so the next four to six weeks are crucial.
Many of you already know how the weather in the Finger Lakes has been this summer—it’s been cool and wet. Lots of vine growth but constant mildew pressure. Last year, 2012, was a hot and dry season with Brix levels up to 25 degrees—good for rich, full bodied wines—what I call a “Pinot Noir Year.” In contrast, as in this season, cool damp weather is perfect weather for a “Riesling Year.” Crisp acidity, steely, mineral laden, food-friendly wines also including the rising star—unoaked Chardonnay.
So the stage is set, Mother Nature holds the cards, a couple of cards are “up,” but the remaining cards will tell the hand. The only different is we can’t fold, just come back next year and do it, again—it’s a vintage!
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!