Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bottled mud? Well, if it keeps raining . . .

Rob Deford of Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, Md., called the 2009 vintage one that “will separate the good grape growers from the less good one.” In terms of vintages, most everyone is holding their breath after another round of rain over the region the past 24 hours. Maybe a dry September will save it, but there seems no end to this succession of tropical rains that have become such a predominant part of this summer.

Pennsylvania’s statewide grape educator noted in his e-letter earlier this week that the grapes are beginning to turn in color, going through veraison en route to harvest. “By most measures in many parts of the state it has been a challenging vintage so far,” Mark Chein wrote, “beginning with freeze events is some areas, frost and then what seems like interminable rain and cool conditions, poor fruit set and complicated disease issues. The forecast is not encouraging. About the only thing to do now is continue to scout and treat for diseases as necessary and manage the canopy. This will be a "winemaker's vintage" but it's still up to the grower to do the best possible job in the vineyard to bring in clean and ripe-as-possible grapes.

“I have little doubt that fruit will ripen at lower brix this year so tasting for flavor maturity will be important as well as the timing of harvest,” he continued. “Acids will be higher and pH lower, always a challenge in the cellar to achieve balance in wines. There is endless debate about how long to wait after a significant rain event before picking. My experience is to wait as long as possible. If you can take 2 steps forward and one back you are still gaining flavors, when it's one step forward and 2 back, it's time to pull the fruit. Winemakers should be intimately involved in these decisions. If you are a wine maker and you are not in your vineyards in a vintage like this you are compromising the quality of your wines.”

The region is two years removed from one of its best-ever vintages; indeed, it would be pretty hard to go wrong with a 2007 dry red from the various wineries in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Deford said that “if anything, if I were laying money on it, this is the year for whites. It has been cooler, which usually favors the fruity aspects of the grapes. They don’t get cooked out, and we have found that actually the whites are a bit better in a challenging year like this.”

You might remember reading here last year that a renegade hailstorm moved down the estate vineyard that Chaddsford Winery has in Elverson, Chester County. Co-owner Lee Miller said the other day, “We did recover very well,” she said. “We had no lasting damage in the vines. So we’re very happy about that,” she added, starting to laugh, “though we may not get a vintage this year either." Rain has hit southeastern Pennsylvania especially hard all summer. " It’s so hard when Mother Nature kind of has a different plan for you," she said. "I was talking to somebody at a real nice New York winery earlier today and she said the same thing. She said, “Ah, man, our vineyards are just a wreck.' But, you know, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Chein noted in his e-letter that “picking will be complicated. I hope you can figure out how to pick around the rot and unripe fruit. Of course, sorting grapes in the field and on the crush pad will help enormously this year. In wet years everyone has to work harder and spend more money just to achieve good wines. If you don't put forth the extra effort mediocrity will be achieved. If conditions are wet be very aware of safety issues with people and equipment in the field together, slipping and sliding, it can be very dangerous. Of course, I'm saying all of this just so the sun will start shining for the next 6 weeks and force me to eat my words. Wouldn't that be a pleasant outcome?”

Lee Miller noted those working in her vineyards and others in the surrounding area are “just trying to keep things from rotting to death” because of all the recent rains. And that was BEFORE the new round that swept in Friday.

All one can do, she noted, is keep hoping the rain stops, keep working hard and, well, maintain your sense of humor. “[Husband] Eric said [to me earlier today], ‘Well, I’m thinking of just giving up. We’re spending a fortune trying to keep these grapes sprayed and rotting. What would you think if we just took the whole vineyard and made Sangria? Then I could just let it go, whatever happens,” Lee said, laughing as she recounted the story. “[He said], ‘We’ll just make 80,000 gallons of Sangria.’

“I said, ‘You better just go take a break today.”

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