Finger Lakes Harvest Update: Disease Pressure, Difficult Decisions Offer a Stern — But Passable — Test

Posted September 20, 2013 by Evan Dawson in Regions
Harvest has begun at Fox Run Vineyards, and many other wineries in the Finger Lakes.

Harvest has begun at Fox Run Vineyards, and many other wineries in the Finger Lakes.

It was the hardest kind of decision to make, and on the morning of September 12, the team at Forge Cellars had to make it. After dozens of hours spent babying his seven-tenths of an acre of pinot noir at Sawmill Creek Vineyard, Rick Rainey knew things had taken a bad turn. An inch of rain on Labor Day had turned up the disease pressure, and sour rot was arriving, day by day, one bunch here, one bunch there. It was going to get worse, despite all of the effort. Forge’s other pinot sites were in better shape, but this vineyard was on the edge.

Louis Barruol, Forge’s co-owner based in Gigondas, France, joined a call via Skype with Rainey and Justin Boyette, co-owner and winemaker. They could pick now, but the entire block would have to become rose. Or they could take their chances, losing fruit by the day.

“We kept coming back to one main idea,” Rainey said. “We kept saying that if you don’t have brilliant fruit, you can’t make brilliant wine. We knew the other vineyards were doing beautifully, but there was no denying what was happening at Sawmill. So we made the call. Pick it now, don’t force it to become mediocre pinot noir. Make a great rose.”

Across the Finger Lakes, such decisions are being made on a daily basis. The 2013 vintage is offering a stern test for growers, and forcing winemakers to place bets on ripening and weather.

Heavy spring rains into June caused some issues, but by late July, the region was on track. A week of low-90s weather in mid-July didn’t scorch the grapes, as temperatures never surged into the upper-90s danger zone. Through early August, the relatively dry weather had vineyards thriving.

Since then, the extreme swings have returned. No rain, then heavy rain. Warm weather, then seasonably cool weather. The early lesson is that wineries can’t afford to take the same approach they took during the spectacular, relatively simple 2012 harvest. Sorting — both in the vineyard and in the winery — will be key to clean fruit and high-quality wines.

Fortunately, the region experienced an even tougher vintage in 2011, and many wineries turned out surprisingly strong wines despite the pressure. That will benefit them this time around.

On September 5, Keuka Spring winemaker August Deimel emailed this ominous warning: “The prerequisites are in place for poor fall weather to lead to a mild disaster.” It was refreshingly honest, but also tempered by this bit of optimism from Deimel: “We started off on the wrong foot weather-wise for the season. That said, growers in the area know what they’re doing. Everyone we talked to is still spraying. Everyone. Everyone recognized that disease pressure would be high and responded. (In 2011) excellent wines were made despite a very difficult growing season. That sort of consistency is indicative of a region turning a corner toward becoming world-class. 2013 will be the year we prove that wasn’t a fluke.”

At Ravines Wine Cellars and White Springs, Morten Hallgren said, “There is significant potential for over-cropping this year. Those vineyards are likely to face difficulties when it comes to ripening. This is not 2012; late-ripening varieties will need all of the hang time they can get. Expect a wide spread in quality and disease pressure.”

Vinny Aliperti, winemaker for Atwater Estate Vineyards and co-owner of Billsboro, explained that he spent the earlier part of September picking for a Blanc de Blanc and a 100% Gewurztraminer Sparkling Cuvee. “If — the big iff — September cooperates, we have a solid vintage,” he said. “Stay tuned.”

During this last week of summer, higher temperatures have finally returned. Last week saw two bizarre days of 93-degree weather, offering a burst for the grapes, but was quickly followed by weather more suited to late October. This week will end with upper-70s and plenty of sunshine, offering either a window for those picking early-ripening varieties, or more pressure-free hangtime.

At Fox Run Vineyards, winemaker Peter Bell noted the relatively constant challenge for vineyard crews. “Mildew was abundant all summer, with a new cycle starting every few days it seemed,” he explained. “There is a lot of latent botrytis as well.” Bell noted that sour rot has been prevalent during his tours around the region, a concern echoed by seemingly every grower who spoke to NYCR.

All of this means that wineries will need more help sorting, but that does not preclude outstanding wine. Working in this region is a challenge, which is a secret to no one in the industry. At Forge Cellars, picking for still pinot noir starts tomorrow at one of their vineyards, while picking at another site won’t happen until next week at the earliest. “That’s the vintage,” Rainey said. “We’re always reevaluating. It can drive you nuts if you want to make truly great wine.”


    Rick Rainey

    We picked our “upper block” at Sawmill (.5 acres) and it was just lovely. Thick, rich and dense, well as much as Pinot gets, skins and flavors. It is just so odd how hard Eric worked across all of our Pinot sites and for some reason mother nature chose to kick our butts on the block closest to the lake. Odd in indeed but I suppose this is why we do it…you just never know what is in store.

    We will have some great Pinot Rosé in 2013 and for the rest, it could be full of surprises…welcome to cool climate wine growing.

    thanks Evan,


      Evan – Nice write up showcasing some of the difficulties faced by growers in the FLX.

      Rick – if the 2013 Rose turns out as good as that 2012 we had recently, you can sign me up for a 1/2 case right now!

    Morten Hallgren

    It is refreshing to have an article that describes actual conditions; not stating that all vineyard blocks are clean and will yield great wines. Given all the rainfall and the disease pressure, we would lose credibility otherwise. There are a substantial number of vineyard blocks with sour rot issues; particularly with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. There are also some that are still in pristine conditions! As we all know, this is the kind of vintage that will challenge grape growers and wine makers. The potential to make great wine- not just good wine- is still there, but there is likely to be more of a “spread” than last year.

    Steven Reynolds

    Mr. Dawson – thank you for your ongoing coverage of Forge Cellars. I feel like I’m missing out if you don’t post something about them every two weeks (your “series” piece seemed to lack the criteria of a series, no?). Is there a specific quota that you have for pieces per month on Forge/Louis Barruol between all of your writings? Or are you still so in love with the idea that a foreign winemaker steps on Finger Lakes soil a couple of times a year and waves his magic wand over the wine that you simply cannot help being a sycophant?

    RR – you never seem to fail us on your responses to articles written by Mr. Dawson. Your public love-fest for each other is a bit nauseating for the other readers of the Cork Report. I believe the phrase is “get a room, already”.

    Mr. Thompson – Has there been any discussion on renaming the site to the “New York Forge Report”?


      Steven – Thanks for the kind words. Forge is, whether you appreciate it or not, one of the very interesting stories in the wine world today. Not all stories are equal.

      However, this harvest story isn’t about Forge. It’s about the challenge of the current vintage. That’s why there are quotes from a wide range of producers. Did you miss that part?

      I chose to hang the peg of the story on Forge because Rick was brutally honest when I reached out. He did not offer spin. He was a bit let down with having to pick for rose in that block. Do you know how often I contact a producer and they tell me, “Best vintage ever! All fruit if perfect! Physiological ripeness in the extreme!”

      The quotes that fill out this piece reflect the producers who don’t feel the need to spin. They trust that an honest story of hard work and hard decisions will be appreciated.

      I don’t apologize for the stories we cover. We all work full-time jobs with kids at home. No one is perfect. I, for one, appreciate the diversity of producers in this region, and I have no doubt it’s reflected in our coverage.

      Rick Rainey

      Steven – to suggest I only show the love for Mr. Dawson is disappointing. When it comes to supporting those in this industry that try and do the best work possible I am equal opportunity in terms of providing a love-fest. If you ever decide to visit our area I do hope you’ll let us show you some of our genuine hospitality.



      Well this isn’t what I was expecting to come back to after a two-day hiatus from my laptop.

      This isn’t a story about Forge. It’s about the entire Finger Lakes region with regard to the 2013 growing season and early harvest conditions. Evan chose to start the piece with Forge because Rick isn’t one to beat around the bush — he’ll give you the real answer at every turn. Forge isn’t the focal point of the piece at all.

      And if you go to our Finger Lakes section page ( you’ll only see one Forge piece — one written by the general manager of a winery down here on Long Island — on the first page. The second page has one Forge piece, but it’s really just a video that they produced. I wrote that post because I thought the video was well done. The 3rd and 4th pages don’t have Forge posts, btw.

      I’m sorry that you think Evan isn’t covering the region the way that you’d like. I really am. But I’m proud of our Finger Lakes coverage and challenge anyone to find anyone else covering it better.

    Paul Z

    We will be up FLX way in a couple of weeks. Will be interesting to talk to everyone about this season.


    Evan – You forgot to mention that *I* am perfect.

    Thanks for this story. I’m so tired of hearing “growing conditions are pretty fine, the wine will be GREAT!” without any details. I appreciate getting some of the real story behind the hustle of harvest and wine making in general.



    I believe a post about the challenge of the 2013 Finger Lakes vintage would be enhanced if a wide range of experienced growers thoughts on the issue had been included in the story.

    While you have quoted a number of winemakers familiar to your readers, the fact is, the old adage, great wine is made in the vineyard, is certainly relevant this year.

    Another apparent perception of our industry noted in the post and comments that surprises me is the idea that honest feedback is hard to come by when predicting or assessing grape/vintage quality? I think experienced growers with a track record of success with Finger Lakes Vinifera grape growing (I’m thinking decades, not a few years) are going to be the real key to quality in the bottle this year. Less experienced Vinifera producers owe much of their success in the cellar and in the field to these experienced vineyardists.

    Growers and vineyard managers such as, Eric Volz, John Ingle, Eric Hazlitt, Phil Davis, John Kaiser, Chris Verrill, John Wagner, Kim Engle, Mike Schnelle, John Santos, Tunker Hosmer and a number of others can certainly be counted on to be realistic about things in my view. These folks have just as much to do with raising the bar on quality as anyone else in the Finger Lakes.


      Steve: I can assure you (because I saw the email) that Evan contacted a wide range of growers, winery owners and winemakers when researching this piece.

      Is there something in the piece that you find inaccurate? I’m trying to better understand what your concerns are. I think you’re dangerously close to simply complaining for the sake of complaining, which is a waste of time for everyone.

      Rick Rainey

      We don’t live in a bubble. I spent an hour on the press deck and ate lunch yesterday with Phil. Eric’s son, Jason and I pressure washed a press last night after sorting grapes all day, but that was only after I stood in a vineyard with Chris for the better part of the morning.

      I will probably bump into Eric this afternoon when I check Riesling.

      You surely don’t believe we do this without talking about harvest? Harvest, that moment when all of our asses are on the line and sharing insight into your challenges and solutions is just what we do, no matter if you are in the Finger Lakes, Long Island or Gigondas.

      I am all for constructive criticism but at this point I am wondering if you don’t have a serious ax to grind and I also have come to believe you are fairly clueless as to how this business works.

      Best of luck.


    Whoa, whoa, whoa everyone!!!! It doesn’t look to me like Steven Reynolds and Steve are the same person. I think the Steve handle is from Steve Shaw (as it always has been) and he made a constructive comment about adding some addtional growers perspectives. That wouldn’t require such a vehement response!

    Who the hell is Steven Reynolds?

    Steve Shaw

    Rick- I will be sure to stop in at Forge this fall. You and the rest of your team are all doing a great job with the wines. All of you with many years of industry experience coming from all sides of the business has been showing in the wines. Personally, I like the approach that you guys have to wine growing and winemaking, creating your own style.

    Thank you Jim- Yes, this is my thirty third Vinifera growing season and my thirty fourth over all. It honestly does not seem like that long to me. I have been very fortunate to have been able to do what I love exactly the way I want to do it in the vineyard and in the cellar.

    I found a lot of inspiration and aquired valuable practical knowledge through my aquaintences and friendships with the real pioneers such as, Dr. Frank, Charles Fournier, Hermann Wiemer, Guy Devaux, Harlan Tyler, Juergen Leonholdt and Walter Taylor. All of them unique, original and passionate contributors to the raising of the bar of Finger Lakes quality in their own particular ways.

    Lenn- (it appears) No, I can assure you that I do not need to hide under the cover of a pseudonym in order to express my thoughts and opinions.

    For me, experience and familiarity have value and advantages that can not be, dismissed, overlooked or ignored. I also know that there is always someone else in the room that I can learn from, I try to do that.

    Bob Madill

    It seems as though weather and harvest share at least one aspect in common. That is, the experience of our own local circumstances tends to provide the main source of information that informs our opinion. Here at Sheldrake Point I harvested the fifth vintage of BLK3 Pinot on Friday and Saturday. These three small rows took a lot of care since we had to clean fruit as we worked. The resulting volume is about equal to 2012 ~ almost two barrels worth.

    At Glacier Ridge that faces west on the east shore of Seneca Lake there is nary a hint of breakdown in the Pinot. Nothing but healthy berries on every vine that I examined – on two recent occasions. The same vintage with vastly different circumstances and outcomes. That’s the Finger Lakes.

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