Pinot noir growing at Freedom Run Vineyards

By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Region Editor

Does everyone remember 2007? That was a great year, wasn’t it? And how about those whites from 2008? They have such a graceful balance of fruit and acidity…good times.

Now that I’m feeling at ease, let me begin the conversation about this 2009 growing season in the Niagara region. It hasn’t been ideal to say the least. The cooler-than-normal temperatures, high humidity and relentless early rains kept disease pressure on everyone’s mind. 

Lenn_preharvest09B Wineries with an environmentally sustainable, organic approach have seen an especially challenging season. For Robin Ross, vineyard manager and co-owner of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, “Rain, in a nutshell, has been the biggest challenge to our vineyard.” Mildew prevention was a chief concern. “Not only was it difficult to get into the vineyard to spray, but the conditions were a perfect storm scenario for black rot, powdery and downy mildew.”

She has high hopes for her chardonnay, cabernet franc, and malbec this season, especially if the weather stays as warm as in recent weeks. Despite a tough season, she still sees organic viticulture as the future for her vineyards.

If you’ve managed clean fruit into veraison, canopy management for the sake of promoting ripening of grapes becomes the issue. Randy Biehl of Eveningside Vineyards in Cambria spent much more time on the tractor and working in his vineyard this year. He made the decision to drop one third of the fruit to help ripening along, and he’s banking on the slow development of this year’s fruit in helping his chardonnay and riesling.

Just down the road at Freedom Run Winery, the vines are thinned more than I’ve ever seen in this area. At one cluster per shoot and an almost complete removal of leafs in the fruiting zone, it looks like they believe that extreme human intervention may be necessary to achieve the quality they desire this year. As of today, the pinot noir grapes at FRW look the most promising.

Luckily last month the weather did an about face and dried out. The sun has returned and has pushed ripening closer to where it should be. As expected, the overall health of this year’s crop varies from vineyard to vineyard. Overall fruit set was good, but some vineyards are clearly doing better than others, so careful sorting fruit in the winery may be the most crucial step in making wine this year.

Most of the growers I spoke to see great potential in varieties like pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay and riesling this fall. With yields being so low, there are bound to be some stand out whites and reds. The later ripening ones like cabernet sauvignon may be another story if we don’t get our Indian summer. Hopefully we will be reminiscing on the summer that wouldn’t end next spring when the first wines from the vintage are released.