‘As a farmer, especially as a Finger Lakes grape grower, you have to be unendingly optimistic. This year is no different in that respect,’ said vineyard manager Tim Hosmer of Hosmer Winery.
Difficult years like 2023 are nothing new to Hosmer, who oversees 28ha for his family’s Cayuga Lake property. Hosmer Winery, which sustained minimal damage in the May frost, has been farmed sustainably since the 1930s.
As the season ploughs on and new challenges surface, Hosmer’s ‘unending optimism’ is echoed by producers across the state.
Cornell Cooperative Extension senior viticulture extension associate Hans Walter-Peterson believes that extensive media coverage of the May frost did New York no favours with consumers. He is clear that even the state’s hardest-hit regions, like the Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley, will still make delicious wine in 2023.
‘We’ve been through hard years before and came out in good shape,’ he said.
Lower yields are expected in some locations where damage was most extreme, but overall, the industry is feeling positive about the 2023 vintage.
A celebrated hallmark of New York wines is vintage variation. And rightfully so, with each growing season varying from the last. ‘The jet stream breaking down means weather patterns tend to get stuck here,’ Alex Alvarez-Perez of Usonia Wine explained.
In the six years they’ve been making Finger Lakes wine, inconsistency is the only constant. ‘It’s either a drought (’20, ’22) or extremely wet (’21). Or you get months-long drought conditions followed by high rainfall and disease pressure like both 2018 and 2023,’ Alvarez-Perez continued.
Matthew Spaccarelli agrees. ‘Unpredictability seems to be the norm now,’ said the Hudson Valley wine-grower and maker for Fjord Vineyards and Benmarl Winery. Benmarl holds Farm Winery License no. 01 in the state and Spaccarelli has been farming the historical land since 2006. He noted that ‘winter lows, early bud break, late frost, spring droughts, summer rains [or droughts] and hurricanes’ are just the beginning.
This summer’s higher-than-average rainfall has kept growers busy in a season ripe for mould and mildew. The rains have also contributed to vigorous vine growth – perhaps a good problem to have, especially after a devastating weather event.
A promising vintage
Though Long Island avoided a late frost due to its warmer maritime climate, the region also battled heavy precipitation. At Lenz Winery, Sam McCullough’s first line of defence is crop management. ‘We strive to retain fruit that is well positioned to receive adequate light for flavour development and is also well-positioned to allow for adequate air circulation to aid in fungal disease prevention,’ he said. He highlighted that thinning is not about quantity, but quality.
‘This season looks promising at this point as veraison has proceeded rapidly and evenly,’ he added. ‘As long as the weather cooperates, meaning mainly warm, sunny and dry, we should see an excellent red vintage.’
Many echo hopes of a ‘cooperative’ September across the state. The month is known to make or break a vintage. Given the volume of rainfall to date, a warm and dry autumn seems crucial.
Veraison brings relief to Colleen Hardy, co-owner of Living Roots Wine & Co. on Keuka Lake. ‘The fruitfulness of the secondary buds has been pleasantly surprising,’ said Hardy of the additional growth seen in the Keuka Lake estate vineyards since May. She estimates just 20-30% loss by the end of the season, compared to an initial estimate of 60-80% of primary buds after the frost.
Hardy said the varying stages of ripeness from primary to secondary bud was a welcomed challenge. ‘We’re optimistic about quality with lower yields and good vine health,’ she noted. Like others across the state, Living Roots will employ multiple passes in the vineyard, leaving some clusters behind to ripen through October or November if the season allows. The team expects to begin picking hybrids for sparkling in early September.
Optimism over everything
This year also marks the inaugural vintage of wines made from grapes certified by the New York Sustainable Winegrowing programme. ‘Just because a year is more challenging doesn’t mean we toss out everything we know about good, sound, environmentally-friendly viticulture,’ said Walter-Peterson.
A total of 49 vineyards achieved certification status, and will offer wines bearing the Trustmark as soon as next summer. Walter-Peterson urges consumers to show their support of New York wine monetarily: ‘This is a time when consumers can really step up and help out wineries. Buying directly from them maximises their revenue.’
Though grapes are just starting to come in, Walter-Peterson already has his eye on 2024: ‘We’ll bounce back. Next year is always another chance to have a great year.’