When I arrived at the farm on Deer Field Road in Mount Pleasant, PA
Beautiful & productive vines like these are the result of careful pruning. Photo courtesy of Greendance Winery
that Sand Hill Berries and Greendance – The Winery at Sand Hill both call home, the windchill was hovering near O° and a thin layer of snow covered the ground. Rick Lynn had invited me to his vineyard to show me how he uses the VPS (Vertical Shoot Pruning) technique to prune his Marquette vines. Vintners prune their grape vines every year to make them more productive and to control how the vine develops during the growing season. The trimming is done during the winter when the vines are dormant. Pruning is a cold and labor intensive job that is essential to the success of the current year’s crop but is also necessary for the training and development of the vines for the future. Rick demonstrated how last year’s growth is removed and two of the best canes are left to be bent and attached to the trellis wire. The vine shoots that grow from the cane that was tied to the lower trellis wire are then trained to grow upward by having them attach themselves to catch wires above the cordon wire (lowest wire). The vines proceed to grow upward in a vertical curtain with the fruiting zone below the canopy. On the day we were pruning a lot of old growth had to be removed because Marquette vines are known for their vigorous growth. Greendance uses the VSP method on all of their vines except the American varieties (Vitis labrusca).
VSP pruning is the most common pruning method for cool-climate wine grapes but it is by no means the only one. Rick and I discussed some new ideas for managing vines in the field. I found the practice of planting vines very close together, about two feet apart, then pruning every vine back to one cane and tying down that cane to the right one year then doing the same the next year but tying the one cane to the left and continuing to alternate direction every year.
Another intriguing idea is “Wild Tail” pruning. Wild tail pruning leaves all the buds on the lateral cane that is tied to the cordon wire so the end buds develop first and delays the budding of the lower buds to protect them from a late frost. After all danger of frost has pasted you walk the vineyard and clip off all the “Wild Tails” back to the number of buds you want on each lateral. I am extremely curious to see if these methods would be successful in a cool-climate vineyard.
The goal of my visit was two-fold and with the first part completed we now turn our attention to the second part, Greendance’s planting of Petite Pearl. If you haven’t heard of the Petite Pearl wine grape you’re not alone. This hybrid grape from renowned Minnesota grape breeder Tom Plocher is just beginning to take root in Minnesota, Wisconsin and across the Midwest where it’s cold tolerance is greatly appreciated. I will be posting about my barrel tasting of Greendance Petite Pearl soon.
My wife and I visited the Niagara Peninsula Wine Country of Ontario, Canada in September during their harvest. We stayed in the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake which sits on the shore of Lake Ontario where the Niagara River enters the lake. There are numerous wineries and vineyards in the area, which makes having a plan essential to maximizing your time and enjoyment while touring the region. Our plan included the well know wineries of Trius, Stratus, Jackson-Triggs, Two Sisters, Peller, Konzelmann and Rief.
This area is definitely a cool climate grape growing region. The wineries and vineyards are among the most beautiful we have ever visited. We tasted at all the wineries that I mentioned and found the wine, even though well made, to be lean and lacking complexity. The varietals displayed crisp acidity, a light body and short finish. I was looking forward to trying their blends or should I say “Assemblage”, but found the same characteristics I found in the varietals predictably repeated in these wines both red and white. It’s not surprising the wine would exhibit these taste profiles simply because those are the traits you expect from cool climate grapes. After giving it some thought I believe that even with reduced yields the grapes couldn’t ripen fully and develop the complexity they needed. The 2016 Harvest may be different because it was a very hot dry growing season which put stress on the vines while the sunshine warmed the berries ripening them more fully.
Many of the estates have excellent fine dining restaurants. They focus on fresh farm to table ingredients that really makes a big difference in the quality of your meal. We had dinner at the outstanding Kitchen 76 restaurant at the Two Sisters Vineyards. The view from our table was amazing, it afforded us a stunning view of the vineyards that were full of fruit waiting to be gathered. A long lane leads you through the Two Sisters vineyard to the large château that houses their tasting room, restaurant and other facilities.
We had a wonderful time on our trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Peninsula and would recommend it. If you are traveling there from the U.S. there are some things you need to consider before you go. Be sure to have a valid passport, check with your cell phone carrier for an international plan when you are there (roaming fees are insanely expensive ), most credit cards charge a fee every time you charge so get some Canadian bills for pocket cash, most GPS won’t work after you cross the border, ask about the laws that pertain to bringing back alcohol and be truthful about it because the border guards don’t like cheaters.
If you do some preparation you can relax and enjoy your time in the Niagara Peninsula.
View from Kitchen 76 Restaurant @ Two Sisters Vineyard
Two Sisters Vineyards view from River Bend
When I was in Monongahela, Pa recently I visited my friends at the Ripepi Winery & Vineyard. I couldn’t have picked a better time to visit because Rich Ripepi and Pete Abvulovic had just unpacked their new Hanna Total Acid and Ph machine for the lab and were setting it up. Rich said the vineyard had come though the winter in great shape. Today turned out to be my lucky day because Rich had a book he thought I would enjoy reading. Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada by J. Stephen Casscles. It is a comprehensive work covering every aspect of propagating cool climate wine grapes in the northern U.S. and Canada.
He approaches the subject from an expert’s point of view drawing upon his lifetime of experience in the Hudson Valley of New York. This publication can be viewed as the most in-depth account of the history of hybridization of cool climate grapevines ever published. Casscles has cataloged the genetic heritage of an amazing number of hybridized grapes by the person or organization that developed them. I think you will be surprised to learn where the genetic material of your favorite grapes came from and why they exhibit the characteristics they do. You may also be disappointed to find out that there is no such thing as a pure strain of grape. The truth is they all have genes from other strains in their genetic profile. To prove this fact Casscles uses the example of the “pure” Chardonnay grape. Chardonnay is a combination of a Pinot
Title Page Signed by J. Stephen Casscles
Noir clone and the bulk white wine/table grape Gouais Blanc.
This book is a must read for anyone growing or wanting to grow wine grapes in a cool climate region of North America. It provides the reader with an immense amount of information and has references to almost any information resource you may need. If you are looking for a handbook/field guide/reference publication for cool climate grapes this is the book for you.
Published by: Flint Mine Press http://www.flintminepress.com
Fero Vineyards &Winery Saperavi 2013
I had the pleasure of drinking my first Pennsylvania grown and made Saperavi recently. It strengthened my belief that the Saperavi grape has the potential to be developed into the signature red grape grown in the cool climate of the Eastern United States. Fero Vineyards & Winery 2013 Saperavi starts by revealing its beautiful dark purple color, a trademark of this wine. After admiring the deep color, aromas of red fruit with a hint of oak fills your nose. Saperavi grapes are known for producing a full-bodied wine with good structure, Fero Saperavi 2013 fulfills those expectations on both counts with style and accuracy. This East Coast Red has good acidity which complements a subtle note of oak that is carried well into a long finish. I recommend buying three bottles of this vintage, drink one now and cellar the other two. Open those bottles after aging them two years and five years, compare your tasting notes, I am sure you will be impressed by how well this wine will develop over time.
Thanks to Chuck Zaleski the owner and winemaker of Fero Winery for pursuing a progressive strategy that is not only designed to grow his business but the quality of wine produced in Pennsylvania. Fero Vineyards & Winery 965 Jpm Rd Lewisburg, Pa. www.ferovineyards.com 570-568-0846 Fero Saperavi 2013 will be judged at the Pa Farm Show this weekend 1/9/15 Update: Fero Saperavi 2013 has won a Gold medal at the 2015 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC).