By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
Winery owners can spin all they like, but consumers won't forget how miserable the early spring was, or how brutal July became. And it doesn't take an expert grower to know that these are not ideal vineyard conditions.
And yet spin is a common part of any business, wine not the least among them.
So when grower Sam Argetsinger (blue shirt at right) and Ravines Wine Cellars winemaker Morten Hallgren addressed the annual Ravinous Club luncheon, it was refreshing to hear tell their customers exactly what they were thinking.
"Spring started wet and cold, but then..." Argetsinger said, then smiled. "It got wetter and colder."
The crowd laughed. Argetsinger did, too. Why try to shine up an ugly spring? What matters is the end result.
Argetsinger said that Mother Nature always wins. "You can't fight her," he said. "You can try, but you'll lose. She is beautiful, and sometimes she's angry, but she's always right."
Hallgren told the gathering that next to 2010, this year has been a tall challenge. "But of course, most years are not like 2010," he said. "We know that. It's part of cool climate winemaking. So our job is to make decisions to improve the conditions as much as possible."
This meant more spraying to lessen disease pressure than many growers would prefer. It meant careful and constant attention, more hours spent among the vines. And in some cases, it meant dropping fruit that had turned to rot.
"It's nice to hear them tell it like it is," one customer told me as lunch was winding down. "We know that it's not always perfect, but sometimes it seems like every winery wants you to think it's always ideal."
Even the Bordelais have had to back off there hyperbole in 2011, a remarkable downshift after four "vintages of the century" in the last ten years.
So what does this mean for the harvest? The strongest growers have been glad to see a glorious stretch of warm and dry weather in late September, and many vineyards are seeing ripening at the average track -- not near the record pace fo 2010, but nowhere close to the sluggish pace of 2009. Vineyards with irrigation fended off the oppressive July heat with more success, allowing vines and developing berries a better chance to maintain development in rough conditions.
Argetsinger brought five varieties of grapes not only to show Ravines' customers, but to let them taste the development. The pinot noir in particular was ripe, with small berries in tight, healthy clusters. "They weren't all pretty clusters," Sam said with another smile.
And that's just fine. It's nice to see some of the top growers and winemakers show the faith in their customers to present them with all the facts.
"Vintage variation is a fact," Hallgren said. "We don't want each year to be the same, and no matter how much anyone wants to convince you otherwise, you're going to see things change. You have to accept that."
He knows that the rest of the fall holds the most sway over his harvest. But no matter the outcome, he'll tell Ravines customers exactly how it goes down.