It Was A Great Year For Grapes

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People will say 2013 was a very good year.

Autumn brought a banner crop of grapes across New York State, which ranks third in wine and grape production in the nation. And Long Island had the best harvest in the state, according to a press release from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo congratulating growers and winemakers.

On the South Fork, winemakers sounded quite happy after the harvest.

“2013 was just about as good as it gets,” said Larry Perrine, partner and CEO at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton. “We’re anticipating a lot of really nice wine from the 2013 vintage.”

“The best vintage I have ever seen in my career, which began in 1982,” Roman Roth, winemaker and partner at Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, declared in a release.

“I think overall, across the board, we have very good wines in 2013,” said Edward Lovaas, assistant winemaker at Pindar Vineyards, which grows about 20 acres on the South Fork at Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill, in addition to its North Fork operations.

Everyone credited the weather, which turned out to be ideal after a too-wet start in spring. Rain can knock blooms from the vines in spring, reducing crop size, as well as causing trouble at the end of the season, Mr. Lovaas explained.

“There was not much reason early on to be excited about the vintage,” Wolffer’s vineyard manager, Richard Pisacano, said in the release. “Then July came, and the heat was turned up. Lots of hot days were followed by a heat wave that lasted until July 22. These conditions accelerated the development of the vines and grapes.”

The summer as a whole provided the kind of dry, sunny weather that maturing grapes take a shine to. Responding to environmental cues like the length of the day, they undergo a change in metabolism in August, Mr. Perrine explained. Growers like to see grapes ripen and change color rather than simply swell, as they will when they absorb water from soil. As the fruits ripen and soften, and their skin color deepens, acidity declines and sugar content rises.

“Once you have these dramatic changes, it continues sort of steadily,” the viticulturist said. “The more sun, heat and light, the riper the grapes when you finally pick them.”

Mr. Perrine and Mr. Lovaas compared 2011 to other recent seasons with what sounded like a shudder. While Mr. Lovaas described 2010 as a “phenomenal” year, Hurricane Irene slammed the South Fork in August 2011, aborting the grape-growing season. At least Sandy had the decency, in 2012, to arrive late in October, after the harvest.

With the 2011 vintage, “the color of the wine tells it all,” Mr. Lovaas said. “You don’t have the intensity,” he said, adding that Pindar didn’t bottle any reds from that season. In contrast, the summer of 2013 had no weather events like Irene, and, while somewhat cooler than normal, stayed dry and sunny through August.

“So we were set up for a potentially very good vintage—if the fall allowed it,” Mr. Perrine said.

And in fact “the fall was absolutely pristine—sunny virtually every day without any precipitation since Labor Day,” he said. A total of 1.5 inches was measured for the entire month of October at Channing Daughters’ weather station, according to Mr. Perrine.

Mr. Pisacano also described September and October as “all we could ask for: sunshine, heat and an absence of rain.”

And Peggy Lauber, Wolffer’s director of sales, said the weather took the pressure off. Not only can rain dilute flavors and lower sugar levels, but it can encourage mold and inhibit the harvesting of grapes. “You want to be able to pick when the grapes are ripe,” she said, instead of “having to react to Mother Nature.”

While grapes for wines like rosés are picked earlier, growers like to leave some on the vine for red wines like merlots. It’s good to be able to “let them hang that much longer,” Ms. Lauber said. “We know that they can keep getting better,”

This year, as it turned out, “the ripening just continued on a wonderful curve,” she said, “It was a very stress-free harvest,”

The fruits of Duck Walk’s labors will be bottled in February—the white ones, anyway, Mr. Lovaas said.

Wolffer will release the first wines from this season, a rosé and classic white blend, in March, Ms. Lauber said.

Mr. Perrine said Channing Daughters will most likely come out with its rosés in March, followed by whites bottled in winter and released in the spring and early summer.

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