2018 Harvest Update: October 15th

As I look outside the window, it’s noteworthy that the trees are still mostly green, with just a few splashes of color showing. It’s is mid-October and by now we are usually at, or approaching, the traditional peak fall color time. With the warm weather and high humidity we’ve had, the trigger for deciduous leaves to turn color and fall off the tree hasn’t completely arrived. The last part of the week, though, has seen a shift into more typical fall weather. The temperatures have dropped into the 40’s and 50’s creating what could best be described as a big refrigerator for the grapes. The sun is mostly hidden behind clouds (with a few exceptional days), so little ripening is happening in these conditions—it is too cold and too sunless. At the same time, molds, mildews, insects, and other disease organisms are also tamped down, removing some of the pressure we were feeling before to harvest before too much rot sets in.

The plan now is to take in what has to be taken in and let the rest hang if they are still sound. There are sunny days ahead in the forecast, and as long as the leaves are still green and capable of photosynthesizing, we can still gain some nice ground with achieving riper flavSzklenski cf 181010 (1)ors. The picture of Cabernet Franc in the Szklenski Brothers’ well-managed vineyards shows a balanced crop load, exposed fruit, and a clean vineyard floor that allows good air movement through the vines. What isn’t seen in the photo is that because of the heat and humidity in the days just prior to this photo, Botrytis is starting to develop on some of the clusters. The weather forecast was for a period of rain, which would have allowed the Botrytis to take over, so we harvested this vineyard the next day to avoid losing quality. If the weather had held, the vines would have been in great shape to continue ripening. We would have loved to keep these grapes hanging longer, but such are the choices we must make sometimes.

I had a conversation with another local winemaker who buys from some of the same vineyards we do. Both of us have seen conditions in other Eastern US regions, and we both agree that our local vineyards have been very fortunate this season by comparison. Most other areas in the East are having a much harder harvest than we have had, with excessive rain and accompanying disease pressure.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

2018 Harvest Update: October 6th

Planning for harvest began many weeks ago:  reviewing past sales and predicting future sales; taking stock of existing inventory and grower crop estimates; and matching that to sales and predictions of future sales. There are also considerations of the quality of the crop as it appears (and as we hope as it appears to be developing. These are all moving parts, some subject to rapid change, but they are important to take into account and are the basis for making decisions not only for how much of each variety to take in (fruit-wise), but how we put it to use.

We’re now well past the midpoint of harvest, and while we can’t ignore what is happening in the vineyards, we are also increasingly focusing more on what’s happening in the winery. For the most part, we have had a good harvest, both in terms of quantity and quality. It’s not perfect, of course, and as we move through the season, the warm and humid weather is starting to take its toll on the fruit, with conditions more susceptible to rots showing up and potentially reducing yields and quality. Growers sometimes overestimate the tonnage (it’s not always easy to estimate) in a vineyard and deliver less than anticipated.  The well-laid plans from earlier in the season may now have to be tweaked a bit as conditions and information change to ensure that the absolute best quality is realized for each wine produced, and that we meet our production goals for each wine.

So, now the focus is shifting. We’re still in communication with growers, and still checking on grapes still hanging. But as we bring in more grapes, tanks are getting filled up, and space is becoming more of a premium. We’re starting fermentations in new juices, monitoring existing fermentations, and racking fermented young wines to storage tanks and barrels. Successful winemaking requires flexibility and adaptability, and this is where we are now, adapting the plan to the reality of the harvest, as it’s happening.

In some cases, decisions need to be made with regard to a wine’s style.  For example, a Cabernet Franc vineyard might need to be harvested earlier than we would like, but this will make it good candidate for our (new!) dry rosé in the upcoming year. This will allow us to minimize contact with the skins, which at this point have an abundance of less-than-ripe tannins, and would result in a coarse, overly astringent red wine if we were to make it in that style. Luckily, we have other vineyards with Cabernet Franc that are holding up better for later harvest, and these will be better candidates for our classic Cab Franc traditional red wine and our new Scarlet Kisses ice-style wine.

Looking ahead, the first Vidal will be harvested this week, followed by Catawba. After that it’s mostly reds—the Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmine), Teroldego and Chambourcin—to finish up the year.  Stay tuned!

Bob Green

PIWC Executive Winemaker

2018 Harvest Update: September 28

In our local vineyards, we are still looking at a vintage of very good quality. For the most part, the weather has been relatively hot to this point, but the last few days have the temperature dipping into the low 50’s/high 40’s in the night, with daytime highs in the 60’s. The air and even the clouds have changed, bringing that crisp clarity of autumn that is so typical this time of year. We’ve avoided the rains so far that have adversely affected many Eastern vineyards. We’re a little over halfway through harvest now, and what is left is mostly red varieties, plus the late-season whites, Vidal and Catawba. Cabernet Franc and Carmine are nearly ready, and we’ll let them hang as long as the weather lets us. With cooler temperatures, we’ll need ample sunlight to continue the ripening process, developing the desired flavors in the fruit. Rain is in the forecast, and it will now be a dance with the weather to determine to the right time for harvesting these late-season varieties.

The harvest news has not been so good this year for vineyards on the other side of our state.  I had the opportunity to spend a day at several vineyards in southeastern Pennsylvania last week. We often talk about the Pennsylvania wine industry as a single entity, but it is, in reality, quite diverse. This is a big state, and the growing conditions (terroir, if you will) vary greatly from one part of the state to the next, and this has played out in a big way this year. Pinot Noir was being harvested while I was there, and the incessant rain the region had during the growing season has taken its toll on the crop—heavy Botrytis and rot had set in. The leaves had also been infected with mildew, reducing their photosynthesis ability and ultimately, the ability of the vine to ripen fruit.  The result was that a good portion was dropped to the ground as not fit for wine. As if this was not enough, that area is also dealing with the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that came into that area from China and can severely damage a vineyard (among other things). The accompanying photo shows it all: dead leaves from mildew; rotten, heavily Botrytised fruit; and a (dead) lanternfly.

What is most remarkable about this season are the responses of the vineyard managers and winemakers to these factors that are clearly beyond their control. All efforts were, of course, made in the vineyard to minimize the damage from each of these events—appropriate sprays, pruning, and culling of the fruit at harvest—and the intent of the winemaker is still to make the best wine possible, adapting the process to produce the style of wine that reduces the problems and highlights the good. Hats off to these people as they are put to task to make the most out of a very troublesome vintage.  The skill of Eastern winemakers who routinely produce good and interesting wines while negotiating difficult conditions and challenges their western counterparts seldom see is highly underrated.

To find information about identifying the spotted lanternfly, current information about where it is known to exist, quarantine order, and compliance go to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Spotted Lanternfly page.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

2018 Harvest Update: September 21st

With harvest in full swing now, we’re starting to see how the quality is playing out. A big concern earlier this week was how much rain we would get from Hurricane Florence. On Monday, a big band of rain from the storm headed our way, drenching everything in its path. It got to the southern edge of the Lake Erie Region, dropped a few sprinkles on our heads, and then disappeared. We totally escaped this one!

Lake Erie Pinot Noir grapes being harvestedThis was good for our Pinot Noir and Vignoles, both of which were nearing the desired picking time, and were on the edge for having severe Botrytis infections. Had the rain from Florence hit us, it may have been enough for the mold to take over, requiring that we either pick earlier than we would have liked to minimize the damage, or if we couldn’t get the fruit off in time, that sour rot (a secondary bacterial/mold infection resulting from the initial damage to the berries by the Botrytis) would set in. This is the knife-edge that we tread—wait for ripeness or pick for safety.

This year we were lucky. The pinot noir was harvested clean and ripe. It is from a new vineyard for us tended by Courtney Semelka, who also provides us with Seyval Blanc. In addition to the Pinot Noir from this vineyard, we’ll be taking in Teroldego, a northern Italian red wine variety suited to cool-climate viticulture, and Zweigelt, a red German grape developed in the 1920’s, also a champion in cool-climate regions like ours. Courtney is a stellar grower, and the vineyard is picture perfect as are the grapes he harvests from it.

2018 Cayuga Grapes from Lake Erie RegionWe’ve finished processing the early native varieties, Niagara and Fredonia, the hybrids Cayuga and Seyval Blanc, and the red vinifera Dornfelder. Quality of the fruit is top-notch, with lower than normal acid levels, and nice sugar. More importantly, the conditions have been favorable for developing flavor, the one thing that the winemaker cannot successfully add. Valvin Muscat, Steuben and Chardonnay are in the wings, and will be harvested early next week.

Of course, with this much activity on the press pad, there is an equal amount of activity in the winery. The cellar crew are busy getting the wines fermented properly and making sure that we have tank space for the new juices and wines ready. The trucks are on the road making deliveries of our juices to other wineries, and winemakers are making the trek to North East to pick up their grapes, juices, and supplies. It’s a busy time, but one of the most exciting and rewarding times of the year as well. The entire year’s winemaking begins during this short period of harvest


Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker

2018 Harvest Update: September 14th

The first week of harvest is now behind us, and the season is looking to be both interesting and, at this point, of high quality. The weather is continuing with warm temperatures, despite a two-day spell where highs only made it into the 60’s, reminding us that fall is not far away. The warmth returned quickly, though, along with higher humidity and good sun. This is fueling fast ripening of the grapes, with warm nights that burn up a lot of the acid in the grapes. Temperatures that are too warm can inhibit aroma development, though, and ideally at this stage we would prefer to have cooler nights with dry, sunnier days. But, as grape farmers who have experienced more than our share of downright bad conditions, we happily accept the nearly ideal and make the best of it.

Actually, this concept of taking what we get and making the best of it is important, since it is at the heart of any discussion of the vintage. Vintage is defined as the year of harvest (not of bottling) for a wine and aggregate character of the vintage – its reputation, if you will – serves as a reference and general indicator of overall quality of any given wine. In a region like Lake Erie, classified as a cool climate, we can experience pretty wide variations between vintages. One extreme example would be the polar vortex years of 2014 and 2015 when many vineyards were lost to the extremely low temperatures in January and February. Excessively rainy years which   And within a vintage, there may be variations between early-season and later varieties like we saw last year where early season conditions were not as good and relative quality of the later ripening varieties was better than the earlier ripening ones even though the overall vintage turned out very well.

We could say that vintage variations give the winemaker the opportunity – or, from the winery owner’s perspective, the obligation – to earn their stripes. Honestly, much of the wine’s quality is set by what happens on the vine but the best winemakers are able to find the best expression of the fruit using the tools at their disposal. These include using innovative techniques and all of the helpful aids at hand to help compensate for flaws and to help guide the wine towards a desired style or balance, but also include good communication with the grower to make sure the fruit develops as best it can for the growing conditions and, perhaps most importantly having the good sense and discipline to “not get in the way” when things are going swimmingly. In good years like this one there should be less “winemaking” and more “tending to”. The French have a term for this – elevage - which means to raise, like a child, providing what is needed; allowing freedom of expression; and knowing when to step in and when to let go.

As we move into the thick of the 2018 season, we can hope for more of the same, and wish for the hurricane to move on its way any direction but north and to fizzle out quickly. This week we’ll be bringing in the Lake Erie staples, Niagara and Fredonia, along with Cayuga, Valvin Muscat (a delightful Moscato wine) and Pinot Noir. Grüner Veltliner and Dornfelder have been harvested and processed, and both are promising stellar wines.

Bob Green
PIWC Executive Winemaker