Downy mildew is like the slasher movie killer in the vineyard: You almost never see it, but when it does make an appearance there is a trail of destruction in its wake.
And all summer long, we heard how this was a disease pressure year like few others -- a slasher movie, to be sure, in the unsuspecting vineyards.
Check out this photograph of grapes ravaged by downy mildew. It was taken in a Finger Lakes vineyard that serves only as an experimental block and thus is not designed to make wine. But the grapes we visited were a mix of vinifera, hybrids and natives.
In the case of this particular block, there was no spraying throughout the growing season. The cool and near-constant early season rains brought a lot of problems and without a spraying regimen, these vines were at the mercy of the mildew.
Pretty sad, huh?
The good news is that growing practices are improving, and even in this pressurized season, many growers have risen to the challenge. That does, of course, require spraying for most of them.
On Long Island and in other regions, an organic movement is growing that eschews traditional spraying in favor of other means of fighting disease. That's a post for another day. I certainly don't intend with this post to endorse one form of growing practice over another; I only intend to illustrate exactly what the effects of downy mildew look like.
For industry professionals, it's nothing new. For those of us who don't tend the vines every day, it's might be something new indeed. And by the way, the solution to warding off disease is not as simple as, "Spray!" It's obviously more complicated and nuanced than that. No doubt growers can spray too often or too rarely. We'd love for growers to jump in to the comments here and share their ideas for handling this season.
Please forgive my hat hair in this video. There's no evidence that my hair was hit by downy mildew. As far as you know.
When I dine out, I'm looking for three things on a wine list:
Diversity. I get it. Ravenswood Zin is awesome, but it would be nice to see a little more.
Price: I expect to pay a markup, but I don't expect to need to pay in installments.
Age: This is rare, but it's always fun to see if an establishment carries any older bottles.
The first time I had dinner at The Village Tavern in Hammondsport, NY I could hardly believe the wine list. The restaurant, located on the southern end of Keuka Lake, carries the oldest and most diverse list of Finger Lakes wine in existence. It's almost as if the Tavern is single-handedly challenging the "drink now" mentality that dominates local wines. (Here's a sample of the wine list).
We ordered a Hermann J. Wiemer 1994 Johannisberg Riesling on that first visit, paying $60 for a wine that was released at roughly 1/6 that price. We didn't blink at the markup; the Tavern has a reputation for carefully storing bottles and this was a rarity. And we were thrilled to find that the oldest Riesling on the list was still showing marvellously.
On this trip, as you'll see in the video, we ordered an even older Riesling now on the list. And the general manager and wine director shows us a bottle he selected specifically for the company at our table: McGregor Vineyard and Winery owner John McGregor and his wife Stacey. You'll find a handful of aged McGregor Black Russian wines on the list at the Tavern.
But how do they make sure they're not selling customers some heavily marked-up vinegar? How are they stored? What's the philosophy behind such a quirky and compelling wine list? And what does John McGregor think about having his older wines on that list? You can find out in the video. And we hope you'll tell us what your criteria are for restaurant wine lists -- and which establishments offer your favorite lists.
Those are literally chunks of limestone sticking out of the earth.
That's unique because when we hear winemakers talk about the composition of the soil we have to use our imagination. In the case of Heart & Hands Wine Company on Cayuga Lake, the vines have not yet been planted. It's all about the site, which prominently features limestone, and we have the rare chance to see the composition up close before vines begin to grow (until his site can produce wine-worthy fruit, Higgins is sourcing his grapes from several growers in the region). In the Finger Lakes, limestone shows up in the extreme northern parts of the area -- not near many prime vineyards, in other words.
But what's the big deal with limestone and Pinot Noir? Why should wine drinkers care? What difference does it make? To get the answers I went out to Heart & Hands on a rare sunny day. In the video I'm joined by winemaker and owner Tom Higgins and his loyal dog Fion.
Following up on my earlier post today, here is some video where several in the Finger Lakes wine industry chime in with their thoughts on Lemberger vs. Blaufrankisch and the variety's future in the Finger Lakes.
I had the opportunity to visit with the new winemaker of Hunt Country Vineyards near Keuka Lake: Jonathan Hunt, son of owners Art and Joyce Hunt. The Hunts declined to say much about the departure of winemaker Chris Wirth, who left the operation last week. "We appreciate Chris' efforts," Art said. "But we've been looking for a way to bring new energy to the winery. Jon has dreamed about this job, and we think it's time."
In the interview, Jonathan - along with his wife, Caroline, and his father, Art - explain the following, which is sure to generate some discussion:
Why the Hunts don't believe biodynamic winemaking is realistic in the
Finger Lakes and but what they're doing to become more sustainable
Which variety is most exciting to Jonathan (it's not riesling)
Why Jon and Art are often confused for twins
Jonathan is the sixth generation of Hunts to work the land, and his background took him through Cornell, to California, to New Zealand.
My Flip cam makes its video debut, but there are still some kinks; I have yet to figure out how to lay in b-roll. Bummer. We shot some extra video during the tasting and intended to lay some in. Next time.
With the growing focus on aged Finger Lakes rieslings, and with so many wineries hosting riesling verticals this year, I thought it would be instructive to hear from Sheldrake Point Vineyard's winemaker about several topics, including:
His thoughts on this tasting, and how the oldest riesling showed
His thoughts on trying to find the perfect time to open a bottle
The answer to that age-old question, "If I hold this riesling too long, will it become Yellow Tail?"
The tasting included Sheldrake's 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2008 semi-dry rieslings. They ranged in RS from 2.3 to 3.6.