Much has been written in various New York media outlets about the heavy rains Long Island has endured over the past few weeks. At one point, certain locations on the East End received 17 inches of rain in an eight-day period. That is definitely a lot of rain -- especially after a summer where we endured near drought conditions (less than two inches over three months).
Now, senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton are seeking federal funding assistance for Long Island's "devastated" wine region.
I use quotes around devastated because from what I've heard (and seen with my own eyes) this is much too strong an adjective. Yes, most vineyards suffered at least some damage -- with that much hard rain and high winds, that was bound to happen. But, I've had several vineyard managers and winemakers tell me that the damage, for the most part, has been over-stated by the "sensational" media. I know better than to take everything they tell me at face value. They don't want word to get out that this turned out to be an awful vintage (will make it tougher to sell the wines)...but this much I do know:
- Most, if not all white grapes had already been harvested before the rains hit -- and chardonnay is the most-planted grape variety on Long Island
- Most of the pinot noir (there's not all that much) was already picked as well, be it for bubbly or still wines
- I stood in at least two vineyards just a few days after the rains stopped, and there was minimal damage to the merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes. Brix was around 22-23, right where it should be. The flavors weren't diluted much, if at all, either
- The high winds the day following the storm were key. They whisked away the water and helped eliminate potential mold/rot
- The cool temperatures during the rain helped a lot too, because mold/rot thrives at warmer temperatures
On the other hand, there were some growers who lost significant portions of their red grapes, and I certainly do not want to downplay that. I feel bad for them and hope they can use their white grapes to get them through this year.
The vineyards that weathered the storm the best were the ones maintained the most meticulously throughout the year. That just makes sense...the vines that were healthy all season long were the healthiest when the storm hit and most prepared to fight Mother Nature (a fight one never ever wins).
I'm not going to pretend to know the financial situation of the local wineries, and I'm sure they'd welcome the federal aid regardless, but I think calling the rain "devastating" is an absolute overstatement. I still have extremely high hopes for the 2005 wines once they are released and plan to taste some of them in tank and barrel over the next few months. I'll let you know how that goes.