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September 04, 2009

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Evan -

Interesting article. I'm sure it will spark some debate.

I don't think that making a blanket statement "Dropping the crop loads by 25% will mean richer, more complex wines."

A vine is all about balance. The SITE dictates this balance and some sites, based on nutrient and water uptake require different handling.

I realize that many writers take to crop load as the easiest point of reference for determining this "richer, more complex wine" theory. I would argue that two canes with bullwood shoots are going to make a much less desirable wine than a four cane scott-henry on a vigorous site.

Personally, I'm much happier taking fruit from a vine that I see in balance (like the shoot tips stopping growth at veraison), rather than going on the pure tons/acre numbers.

Cheers,
Tom

Tom,

Very good points. I'm basing that statement on Johannes' very specific view that the wine is going to benefit; he has been seeking this change for some time, and for his site I trust his assessment. You'll note, I hope, that I sought very much to avoid blanket statements in this piece. And industry professionals far smarter than me have stressed the importance of vine balance. But I'll stand by my view that there are still too many vineyards overproducing in the Finger Lakes. Doesn't mean it's that way everywhere -- in fact, the improvement I've seen in just a few years is remarkable. It's why we can get such elegant, complex Pinot along with other world-class wines.

yea I agree, you shouldnt let the economy dictate your crop load, but Im sure there are plenty of NY vineyards that need some crop reduction regardless of the economy. Dosent supprise me Anthonies Road is seeking reduction, they are so obviously focused on top quality viniculture, they took the NYS Governor's Cup this year with their semi dry riesling. In fact my boss just recieved a half case as a gift from them (I, however, was not offered any, sniff sniff grumble grumble)

So if I could get a bit of a survey from growers that would be great ... What brix are growers harvesting Seyval at? And when? (approximate answers are acceptable)

Good discussion. I've long been part of the debate in NY regarding crop yields and wine quality. I've heard the Dr. Smart lectures that assure growers they can increase yield if they correspondingly increase canopy, etc. But rarely have I seen these techniques work well - particularly with red wines - in the glass. The theory works if you have a growing season that can provide extended sunlight and ripening conditions. Whites can surely hold a larger crop load and produce excellent wines but reds are another animal altogether.

Vine balance is very important but even with a balanced vine I've seen there is a limit as to how much fruit that balanced vine can ripen. The limit is determined by the climatic conditions that the vine is growing under - heat, sunlight and rainfall. Fact is at some point we literally run out of growing season. It's no secret that colder viticultural areas typically produce wine grape yields that are lower than the same varieties produced in warmer climes. The good news is I believe our wines are better for it.

I believe yield and vine management is the limiting factor to wine quality in the northeast. The discussion on an earlier thread regarding hybrids is a case in point. Many of these varieties could make much better wine if they were cropped at more moderate levels. Acidity would be lower, flavor would be increased and the need for residual sugar for balance would be decreased.

In terms of red here on the Island, most of the best reds are produced from vineyards yielding 2-3 tons per acre. For that amount of fruit the vines can be balanced accordingly by setting more fruit and thinning later, more severe pruning etc. After all these years we're still learning and tweaking our vineyards to find the best results. But ultimately, it's whats in the glass that matters and should determine what your practices should be.

Rowland and Rich,

Interesting stuff, and I've been slowly putting together material for a future piece on exactly the subject of yields. But for now I wanted to add an idea to the mix and get your thoughts on it.

During our Finger Lakes cab franc tasting event earlier this summer, a discussion on yields took place. Hermann J. Wiemer owner and winemaker Fred Merwarth made a remark that I had not heard before, and yet makes sense to me. He said that even if the vine can be undercropped and thus off balance, only will the ensuing wine pick up more weight and mouthfeel when yields are reduced. In other words, we can discuss balance all we want, but the more fruit on the vine, the less mouthfeel and weight.

Thoughts on that? Again, this is perhaps best left for a separate post.

I think its a factor of terroir, the weather and the definition of under cropped. There is a law of diminishing returns as well- i.e. in many years a 1 ton yield will not necessarily make better wine than a 2 ton yield. You're just loosing crop for no reason at that point. In other years, higher yields (or higher numbers of clusters per vine) will result in wines of lesser quality. Soil type also plays into it as all things being equal, some wines will just be better when grown on certain soils.

I think every place needs to do this work on their own to see what is successful in their own terroir. I do feel strongly that every region has a limit on yield with regard to quality and that limit will change depending on the location. The French had it right when they instituted the A.O.C. regs.

... see guys, you need to creat a forum.

But seriously, Seyval. What brix are people harvesting it at? I know they grow a lot of it up by you in the Finger Lakes, and here in the Hudson Valley the HVWGA makes it the primary componant of the Hudson Heritage blends (http://hvwga.com/Hudson%20Heritage%20Wine.htm). But the thing is Ive heard a few growers say they harvest it at only 16 brix (so talk about hiding the filter for Parker, how about hiding the pallets of sugar). Is this an individual choice of these growers, a style thing? or is that common practice, maybe related to over cropping as you say (but still, why even bother with a grape that only "ripens" to 16 brix?)? Please way in.

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