One of the most visible signs of harvest approaching is when the red grape varieties begin to develop their color, in a process called veraison. The term in French means “the onset of ripening,” and everywhere in the world where grapes are grown it is accompanied by excitement and a buzz of activity.
Table grapes at veraison.
Veraison actually started about a month ago in the Finger Lakes. Each varietal marches to its beat of its own drum, with the unknown table grapes shown above from last weekend well on there way, while Cabernet Sauvignon right across the street is less farther along. Concords in my yard just have a few berries per cluster showing signs of pink.
Cabernet Sauvignon at veraison.
From the time berries form until veraison, energy goes into cell division. At veraison, changes occur in the cells so that energy goes into sugar development. At the same time, malic acid degrades, leaving tartaric acid as the dominant acid component. For Chardonnay and red wines, it is often desired to convert tartaric acid back to malic by malolactic fermentation, but more about that when we actually get there.
One of many tools to scare away birds.
Unfortunately, birds and deer also know something is up, in part visually and also due to changes in the aromas in the vineyard. Growers have a number of tricks at their disposal, such as these modern versions of scarecrows, propane powered cannons, and netting.
Based on data collected by Cornell, the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets has notified wineries that they may purchase out of state grapes due to this year’s winter damage. State law allows this on a per-varietal basis when the loss for the varietal is 40% or more. The affected grapes are:
- Cabernet Franc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Gamay Noir
- La Crescent
- Pinot Gris
- Pinot Noir
Several of these are surprising, for instance Frontenac and La Crescent that are supposedly winter hardy down to minus 33 degrees. A spot check of weather recorded up north (Watertown) and out west towards Buffalo, where wineries producing with these grapes are situated, did not uncover anything near that. It would be interesting to know more about the affected wineries and their fruit sources.
Although I have come to believe that decks tend to be stacked against grape suppliers as opposed to purchasers, New York does have a rigorous process for granting waivers. A winery seeking to use out of state fruit must list 3 growers from which it tried to purchase, and the amounts must be in line with what it has purchased in the past. Further, if the wine is less than 75% New York grapes, it cannot carry a New York or regional appellation. The benefit to the winery is that it can at least continue to participate in the wine market. Alas, all the grower has to fall back on is crop insurance.
Yet another weather system in moving into the Finger Lakes the next two days with the potential to drop another 1 to 3 inches of rain. According to the Cornell University Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC), the temperature hasn’t been far off from the long term averages, but the summer has been decidedly wet, with flooding experienced in Ithaca, Penn Yan, and other areas in the Finger Lakes.
|*through August 11
More troubling has been severe storms we have experienced, including several bouts of hail and one spate of tornadoes.
Hail on a deck near Ithaca, courtesy Finger Lakes Weather and Sharon Heller.
While no farmer ever wants to see hail, this type of precipitation is particularly tough on grapes. The photo below is probably of a native American varietal, as indicated by the loose clusters. Vinifera tends to be more tightly clustered, and a puncture in the skin of a grape on the outside of the cluster allows juice to stream inside where, with nowhere to go, it produces rot. The juice from compromised clusters is decidedly, in the words of Alton Brown, “not good eats,” and they must be discarded or the grapes sorted before pressing – an arduous and expensive process for which there is little time during harvest.
Hail damaged grapes, courtesy Finger Lakes Grape Program.
At this point in the season, the grapes have all the water they need. Some stretches of sunshine and low humidity would be most helpful.
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