Hurricanes, and their remnants, are a hazard that very few wine regions need to worry about. But as harvest approaches each season, Long Island vineyard managers and winemakers always have an eye set on tropical systems as they develop in the Atlantic and build steam in the Caribbean. Sometimes the can, and do, make their way north and the results can devastating.
Growing fine wine grapes on Long Island is a delicate balancing act. Growers are always trying achieve the most ripening that the growing season will allow—trying to eek out every last bit of sugar—while ensuring that they get the fruit into the winery before it is lost to any number of maladies including birds, deer, frost and disease.
It's not surprising then that as hurricane-turned-tropical storm Hanna moved up the east coast last weekend, the local wine industry was concerned. Would soggy, drowning rains burst just-ripening berries? Would 70 mph winds destroy canopies, shutting down the vineyard's sugar-making machines?
No. Local wineries were lucky. Most areas received two inches of rain or less last Saturday, and ample sun and drying winds the next day cleaned everything up quickly.
David Page, co-owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards, told me in an email that “Hanna was a non event…over reported by the media. (We had) less than 2 inches of rain, mostly absorbed by the cover crop. There was not as much as a single wet leaf or cluster at 6 a.m. the morning after the rain.”
Over at McCall Vineyard in Cutchogue, vineyard manager Ben Sisson didn’t make any special preparations as the storm approached “other than my usual pre-harvest routine.” Because the storm passed through the region quickly, any damage was really minimal. He added "Frankly I'm glad that the vines got a drink and I didn't have to fight a winemaker to do it.”
Roman Roth, winemaker at Wolffer Estate, says that “Hanna was luckily not a big issue” for him and vineyard manager Rich Pisacano, but added that it was for his daughter Indira who was “wondering if Hanna Montana was coming to the East End.”
Luckily, we seemed to have dodged that hurricane as well.
And even though harvest has started, with some wineries picking pinot noir for sparkling wine already, all the local wine industry can do is keep a collective eye on Ike, Josephine and those storms still unnamed as they let the rest of their grapes hang on the vines into October and even November.
Everyone seems optimistic that 2008 can be a classic vintage, but no few will say it. No one wants to taunt Mother Nature and her storm-delivered wrath.