Multiple wineries around Keuka Lake are reporting a good but slow start to the harvest this year due to colder than normal temperatures in the spring.
Mild temperatures to begin the spring caused grape crops to bloom later, growers said, so the harvest season began several weeks later than normal.
“It’s slow, that is the story of this harvest,” said August Deimel, head winemaker at Keuka Springs Vineyards in Penn Yan. “The bud break was late and flowering was really late, so that pushes the whole mechanism of the grapes back.”
Deimel said at this time last year, he had crushed 60 tons of grapes out of 125 tons he expected to crush. This year, he’s crushed 25 out of 150 tons expected.
“We’ve done half as much despite the fact that we’re doing 15-20 percent more (grapes in total),” he said.
The delayed harvest has resulted in grapes around the lake that are slightly high in acidity for this point in the year, particularly for vinifera grapes, which will require a few more weeks on the vine for those levels to drop.
Deimel said so far, Keuka Springs has harvested mainly hybrid grapes such as vignoles. Vinifera grapes, which encompass the grape varietals of Europe and make up the core of production at Keuka Springs, are being left on the vines a little bit longer to mature properly.
“The grapes look really good and are really solid on the vine, but they just need more time,” said Diemel.
Other wineries around Keuka have reported similar circumstances.
“So far, so good, but things are a little slow,” said Nikki Folts, co-owner of Vineyard View Winery in Keuka Park. “We’re usually kind of wrapping things up, but actually this year we’re just getting started. But everything’s coming in looking pretty good.”
“The fruit looks really clean, we’re still hoping for a little more ripening,” said John McGregor of McGregor Vineyard in Dundee. “There’s a nice amount of fruit out there, clean fruit and good flavors. We’re just hoping for a little more rise in sugar levels and a little drop in the acid levels. But we’re going to be able to make some really great wines.”
Heron Hill Winery in Hammondsport has begun its harvest season by picking some pinot noir, pinot blanc and chardonnay, with muscat and riesling on the horizon. Eric Frarey, a managing partner at Heron Hill, said a particularly hot summer allowed the winery’s crops to make up some ground from earlier in the year.
“This summer was very good,” said Frarey. “We had quite a period of heat and dryness that really brought the grapes along from an early wet spring.”
Meaghan Frank, general manager of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery in Hammondsport, also said they were assisted by warm weather this year, particularly with the high temperatures that subsisted well into September.
“We were about two weeks behind. But as we got going, we had quite a few hot days, and now we’re doing a lot better than we thought we were. It’s actually been quite positive,” said Frank. “Also, these really hot days have helped with the ripening process, decreasing the acidity level.”
So far, she said Dr. Frank's has harvested grapes such as those for sparkling wines, and some pinot blanc, pinot noir and pinot gris, among others, with plans to begin harvesting chardonnay this weekend. Following that will be grüner veltliner, riesling, gewürztraminer, rkatsiteli, and then some red varietals.
Because of the large volume and variety her winery cultivates and harvests, Frank said the slower harvest season actually works out in their favor.
“It’s sort of a slow start, but our harvests here are (like) marathons because we do so many different varieties and so many different styles. It’s nice to break it up,” she said. “Last year, everything came in at once and it was very hectic.”
At Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport, owner Art Hunt said the winery’s smaller-scale grape production allows it to achieve peak ripeness for its crops despite the harvest season conditions.
“We are lucky at Hunt Country because we (grow) a smaller crop of most of our grapes than average. Because of that, we think we’re able to get the ripeness we’re looking for,” he said.
Going forward into the winter, Hunt and other winemakers are looking for dry conditions and consistent, preferably mild temperatures as they wrap up the harvest season in the coming weeks and prepare for winter.
“If things dry up, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape," said Hunt.
“We’re looking for no variations of warming and cold trends," said Frarey. "We’re looking for the cold air to come appropriately as the canes have hardened. And once the cold air comes to the northeast, we really prefer it to remain consistently cold.
"It’s the warming and the return to cold that really creates opportunity for damage in the canes and trunks.”
If all goes according to plan, wineries around the area expect to conclude this year’s harvest around the end of October or early November.