We Will Rise

Fero Vineyards Lewisburg, Pennsylvania Photo Courtesy of Fero Vineyards & Winery

I wake up every morning only to realize that it isn’t a reoccurring bad dream I keep having but a new day and the new reality of a world suffering through the Covid-19 pandemic, I struggle to believe that the images and commentary from around the world are actually taking place and isn’t the plot from a futuristic sci-fi novel. I take comfort in knowing while most of the country is safe at home under a “Stay at home” order Nature is moving forward at its own pace unaffected by the current state of human affairs. That won’t last long because crops will need to be planted and vineyards will need to be tended. Those jobs will take labor and labor will be hard to find now that the flow of migrant workers has been severely restricted to mitigate the spread of the virus.The biggest question yet to be answered is if the virus will peak and recede soon enough to allow work to start or will it linger causing a catastrophic interruption of all food and material commerce. That is a question that no one can answer while we’re in the midst of this unprecedented disaster. My best advice would be to explore some of those bottles you have been saving for a special occasion and enjoy them now because when will you be experiencing a more memorable event that this? Stay Strong, Stay Safe and Stay Home

Winemaker: Adam Sabelli-Frisch

                As with most things in life the saying “What was old is new again” rings particularly true when it comes to trends in the wine world. Anyone that has read this blog can attest to my curiosity with the ancient wine grape Saperavi and its resurgence worldwide but more specifically here in the U.S. The Mission grape has a storied past in California but fell out of favor with the winemaking community in the early part of the last century. Countless acres of vines have been pulled out and the land used for other projects. When I heard of a winemaker producing wine from Mission grapes and other lesser know varieties I was intrigued. I contacted Adam Sabelli-Frisch owner/winemaker of Sabelli-Frisch Wines in Santa Clarita, California and asked him for an interview to find out more about him, his winemaking philosophy and his plans for bringing back some very interesting wine grapes that haven’t been widely produced in decades.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Adam for the time and honesty he shared with me for this article. What follows is my unedited interview with Adam Sabelli-Frisch of Sabelli-Frisch Wines.

 

                       How did you get started making wine?

Like so many others, I started with home winemaking. Very bad at first, but it gradually improved. Like most home winemakers, I harbored a dream of eventually doing it professionally, which

Mission Grapes Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

certainly isn’t a new idea by any means. And one of my bad or good character traits, depending on how you look at it (or if you’re my wife), is that when I decide something, I launch into it pretty quick and without much fear. So by the summer of 2018 I’d decided I wanted to try this for real, and in Sept of that year I was already doing my first harvest!

How would you describe your winemaking style?

I would say that I lean towards making more old world type wines in the new world. Not austere in any way, just a little more restrained than perhaps is the CA style that has prevailed in the last decades. But still embracing the possibilities of the warmer climate wines we can make here. Perhaps a more accurate description would be that I try to make them in the earlier California tradition of the 60’s and 70’s before the big

Flame Tokay Grapes Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

styles became the norm.

Who and what had the greatest influence on your winemaking?

I wish I could mention a mentor, but since I didn’t come up through a traditional winemaking background, and have another job to support this still, I never had the chance to work under others (which I very much regret). I would say that maybe Emile Peynauds book Knowing And Making Wine was the closest to something like that.

How did you get interested in growing and making wine from grapes not being widely grown commercially?

That is a long story that I will try to shorten as much as I can: During my early winemaking I was predominantly drinking and making so called ‘natural wines’ (I prefer to refer to them as low-intervention wines these days, rather than natural).That

Petit Manseng Grapes Photo Courtesy: Sabelli-Frisch Wines

was the focus I wanted to bring to making my own wines – naturally fermented, not filtered and with low sulphur additions. In any case, I thought it would be interesting to also take that concept one step further. And in my mind it didn’t make sense to do low-intervention wines and then use imported and non-native grape varieties to do it from. So I wanted to make my wines using the American native strands, vitis labrusca and vitis rupestris etc. But after personal research and trials, I came to the conclusion that they are very challenging to make good wine out of. It was just a bridge too far for a new winemaker. So I regrouped and said: “well, which is the oldest vitis vinifera strand in the US?” And the answer is of course Mission. It’s the oldest European grape in the New World and has been in the Americas for more than 500 years now. So that seemed like a good fit. Only when I started making wine from it did I fully realize how amazing and rewarding that grape is.

What are your favorite varietals to work with and why?

I love Mission with a passion. It has been maligned, discredited, mistreated and ripped out for over a century now. You open older winemaking books and they all refer to the grape as inferior and not suitable for making wine at all. It is completely misunderstood. And when you take the time to understand it, you’ll find it makes world class wines. That might sound hyperbolic, but I actually believe that is the case. Mission has a great future ahead of it, and I’m convinced it will have a big resurrection.

What are some of your favorite wines and from which regions and producers?

I used to be heavily into Amarone in my youth and have a good

Syrah Grapes Photo Courtesy :Sabelli-Frisch Wines

collection of them still. But as you get older, seems like the palate changes and you go for more subtler styles. Last years it’s for me mainly been California or Oregon wines with a good mix between natural wines from small producers and a lot of Pinot Noir. My knowledge is limited to CA and OR wine and I don’t have a lot of knowledge about European producers, which is kind of ironic as I’m from there myself. I really enjoy Lioco, Failla, Ceritas,, Stirm, Broc Cellars, Deux Punx, Sandlands and producers like that here in CA. It’s a very exciting time for CA wines and there’s a change of guard as we move away from the Napa style.

What wines are you working on now and what are your expectations for them?

Well, my interest for rare, underused or strange grape varieties continues. Beside Mission, this year I did a Petit Manseng white for my limited edition Milk Fed line. It’s a yearly recurring edition where the grape changes, but the vinification in amphorae and with light skin-contact doesn’t change. Very small production and one-off’s for each vintage, so they’re always exciting. I also came back to my Alicante Bouschet which turned out so well in 2018 vintage. Really a wonderfully subtle wine. And my Flame Tokay rosé I continued this year as it also turned out so nice last time (Flame Tokay is another almost extinct grape). In the future I’m looking to explore more varieties – I almost got some Negrette and Cabernet Pfeffer this year, so I hope I can revisit those down the line.

Please feel free to to add any personal thoughts and insights you think would be of interest to my readers.

Well, maybe that first release will be sometime early 2020. No fixed date yet, but I would guess around March. I bottle in January and depending on how long they take to get over bottle shock, that’s when they’ll come out.

For more information you can contact

Adam Owner/winemaker Sabelli-Frisch Wines Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

Sabelli-Frisch Wines via email at info@sabelli-frisch.com

Phone: 310-383-2944

Follow on Instagram @  sabellifrisch

 
 



Wow! Here’s a discount code for Rocca Wines

     It isn’t often that a premier Napa Valley vineyard and winery offers a discount on their award-winning wines. Mary Rocca, owner of Rocca Family Vineyards in Napa has generously offered a discount on her wines to all of my readers. Deals like this rarely happen with world-class wineries so don’t hesitate because it expires on 10/16/19 and I know you will regret missing this one. Go to http://roccawines.com  and enter either discount code at checkout. WPASHIP (one dollar shipping on any order) or WPA25 ( $25 off any order of 2 bottles or more).

L to R Vineyard Manager Sergio Melgoza, Mary Rocca Owner Rocca Family Vineyards, Winemaker Paul Colantuoni and Banner a Lagotto Romanolo (Italian truffle hunting dog)

 

 

Down in Roccaland

     If you have ever had the good fortune to see your family name on the label of a wine bottle you can understand my interest when I saw mine attached to a premium Napa Valley winery. I started to wonder if there might be some family connection. I contacted Mary Rocca, owner of Rocca Family Vineyards to explore the possibility of us being related. I found Mary to be very kind and welcoming as we exchanged information about our ancestry. I learned a great deal about my own heritage and also about Mary’s. We found some amazing coincidences that would have never been discovered had we not reached out to each out. Mary generously sent a gift of her wine to be shared at my family reunion as an introduction between our families. I would like to say “Thank You” to Mary for all the time and effort she has taken from her busy schedule to assist me in this project. Although we haven’t identified any recent common threads we continue to search. Even if we can’t find any blood relatives uniting our families I will always consider Mary not only a friend but family. Mary has generously offered to discount the wine purchases of all of my readers when they enter either of these codes at checkout on http://roccawines.com  WPASHIP ($1 SHIPPING ON ANY ORDER) or WPA25 ($25 OFF ANY ORDER OF 2 BOTTLES OR MORE) These codes expire on 10/16/19 so don’t miss out on your chance to buy extraordinary wine from an outstanding Napa Valley winery with an insider’s deal.

Anyone that has ever dreamed of owning a vineyard and winery in Napa, California can only imagine the excitement that Mary Rocca and her husband Eric Grigsby felt when they

Mary Rocca at Rocca Family Vineyards Napa, California

decided to pursue that very dream. They began their search for the ideal Napa vineyard in 1996 while Mary juggled her dental practice, Eric his medical practice and not to mention their four young children at home. Their three-year search for the perfect vineyard came to fruition when they found a 21-acre vineyard deep in the heart of the Napa Valley. They renamed it the Grigsby vineyard and planted new rows of vines between the existing ones to essentially double their grape production. This vineyard is located between the warmer climate of the upvalley and the cooler maritime influences of the San Francisco Bay. The Grigsby vineyard is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon but also has 1 acre of Merlot and roughly 2.5 acres of Syrah. In 2000 Mary purchased the 11-acre Collinetta vineyard in the Coombsville appellation. The Collinetta vineyard is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (Clone 4 & Clone 337) but also has an acre of Cabernet Franc and an acre of Petit Verdot. Now with all the pieces in place Mary could focus on making her vision for Rocca Family Vineyards a reality.

     Many decisions had to be made when it came to what pillars the winery and vineyard

The Grigsby Vineyard

would be established on. For many of those choices Mary drew upon the deeply seated beliefs she had built her life and career on. First and foremost, Rocca wines had to be the best they could possibly be and show not only the most natural expression of the vines but also the environment in which they were grown. With that in mind, the choice to farm both vineyards with organic and sustainable viticulture was the only acceptable path forward. As conscientious stewards of the environment, everyone at

The Collinetta Vineyard

Rocca is acutely aware of the long-lasting and far-reaching effects that pesticides and herbicide can cause in the delicate balance of the ecosystem both locally and globally. The Grigsby and Collinetta vineyards have proven themselves by producing some of Napa Valley’s finest wine grapes and because they are organically farmed are U.S.D.A. organic and C.C.O.F. certified.

     In 1999 Mary hired Celia Welch Masyczek of Scarecrow fame as Rocca’s first winemaker and together they produced a long line of award winning and critically acclaimed wines. In 2008 Paul Colantuoni assumed the role of master winemaker at Rocca wines from Celia. With vineyard manager Sergio Melgoza nurturing the grapes and Paul’s skillful hand now making Rocca Family Vineyards wine the winery has continued on its accending arc vintage after vintage.

     If you would like to know more about the Rocca Family Vineyards story or are interesting in purchasing their wine please visit http://roccawines.com  Don’t forget to use the codes to receive a discount on your wine purchases. WPASHIP for $1 DOLLAR SHIPPING ON ANY ORDER or WPA25 for $25 OFF 2 BOTTLES OR MORE.

     Follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter            

Vineyard Manager Sergio Melgoza, Mary Rocca and Winemaker Paul Colantuoni (left to right)

 

Three Little “Pink” Birds

     To be honest, the reasoning behind making a single vineyard Rosé is completly lost on me. The beauty of making a Rosé is the artistic license winemakers can excercise in the way they meld the distinct characteristics of grapes to create a finely nuanced wine. Blending affords a winemaker the luxury to be able to “paint” their wines with fine strokes of flavor and delicate aromas not possible with a single vineyard Rosé. With the ever increasing popularity of Rosé around the world I understand the pressure producers feel to gain attention for their wine and themselves in a crowded market. 

The first wines ever made were probaly Rosé-type wines. It makes sense that when ancient civilations harvested their grapes they all were combined and crushed to render a mixture of every grape they could get their hands on. Have we really evolved so much over the millennia that we now feel the need to taste the terrior in our Rosé? The fact I am writing this post about single vineyard Rosé proves that it is an effective tool to get your wine noticed. 

Here are a few single vineyard Rosés that you might find interesting if you are curious and want to see for yourself if they have any merit or are just a marketing ploy. 

Single Vineyard 2017 Rose Languedoc Languedoc-Roussillon, France $11 Fruity with flavors of red berries and herbs but on the dry side.

2017 Jules Taylor OTQ Single Vineyard Rose Pinot Noir Branken Hill Vineyard Marlborough, Australia 92pts James Suckling 90pts Wine Advocate $20 Loads of raspberries and cherry flavors on fine tannins lead to a dry finish.

Aluvion 2017 Malbec Rose Single Vineyard $30 Medium-bodied with balanced ripe red fruit flavors and lively acidity.

Gervasi Vineyard = Tuscany in Ohio

Recently my wife and I had the pleasure of enjoying an overnight visit to Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, Ohio. If you are looking to escape to a little piece of Italy for a day or two this is an excellent “No passport required” option. All the buildings and amenities at Gervasi fit

The Crush House

effortlessly into the 55-acre Tuscan-themed property. This premier destination winery

resort boasts fine Italian dining ranging from the “The Bistro” located in the meticulously restored original barn to the trendy “Crush House” with its casual dining choices and views of the winemaking operations. We did our wine tasting at the Crush House where we sat at the bar which afforded us the added entertainment of watching the chefs in the open kitchen work their magic. The small plates we ordered to accompany our flights were excellent.

Gervasi Vineyard makes three very good estate wines from the grapes harvested from the

Tanks in the Crush House

five acres of vineyards located on the property. The other wines they offer are made from grapes sourced mainly from California and the Finger Lakes of New York. We found these wines to be very well-made and enjoyable to drink. The menu also includes craft beer, select imported wines and distilled spirits made on site in “The Still House”. The Still House is a café  with a coffee bar by day then transforms into a cocktail lounge by night with live music, Gervasi signature spirits, draft beer, wine and snack food.

“The Piazza” delivers an alfresco dining venue where guests can savor the relaxing view of the lake. We chose to dine at “The Bistro” which offers patrons a rustic upscale Italian

North Vineyard

dining experience. We ordered Chef Jerry’s Famous Tuscan Beef Short Ribs and paired them with a Barolo from the Italian Piedmont. Everything at The Bistro was upscale, plentiful and presented in a friendly and helpful atmosphere. I found this attention to detail and customer service a constant in all of my interactions at Gervasi. 

We stayed in the newly opened boutique hotel appropriately named “The Casa”. The Casa has 24 individual suites with king-sized beds, gas fireplaces that light with the press of a button, heated floors and a covered patio overlooking the pond and courtyard. A complimentary Italian-style continental breakfast is available each morning and will be delivered to your room. 

“The Villas at Gervasi Vineyard” has been named “Best Wine Country Hotel” by USAToday

The Lake at Gervasi Vineyard

two years running and is a Four Diamond hotel. Each villa has four suites with fireplaces. A complimentary breakfast is also included at the villas. The villas can be reserved as an individual suite or as an entire villa. These accommodations are just a short walk from all that Gervasi has to offer. 

“The Farmhouse” is the property’s original 1830 farmhouse that has been completely restored and modernized. The Farmhouse sleeps 7-8 guests with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large wrap-around porch. 

Gervasi Vineyard is the perfect option for someone looking for a break from the daily routine of life. Whether it is a romantic getaway, girl’s weekend or even a business meeting Gervasi will leave you with “bei ricordi”.  The NFL Football Hall of Fame is only a short 15-minute drive from, Gervasi. One last thing, be sure to pick up a bottle of Gervasi’s very

Gervasi”s Courtyard Fire Pit

own imported Italian olive oil. “Delizios”

Gervasi Vineyard 1700 55th St NE Canton, OH 44721  (330) 497-1000  http://Gervasivineyard.com

New Saperavi Vineyards Take Root

Saperavi is dramatically expanding its footprint in North America as more vintners add vines to their vineyards and long-term plans. Growers are taking advantage of the increase in Saperavi vines on the market as other nurseries join Amberg Grape Vines (formerly Grafted Grapevines) to boost the supply of Saperavi stock. A special thanks to Jim Baker at Chateau Niagara for helping me in my search for American Saperavi producers. If

Saperavi Grapes

you are or know of a Saperavi producer please contact me at wpawinepirate@gmail.com.

The first stop on our quest for new Saperavi vineyards takes us to Fort Defiance in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where Tim Jordan is planting an acre of Saperavi this Spring (2019). Tim is the former head winemaker at Barren Ridge Vineyards and a PhD. of Entomology from Virginia Tech.He is planning to add four acres of hybrids and Saperavi to the existing six acres of vinifera in his family’s vineyard. He intends is to implement as many organic and biodynamic viticulture practices as possible in his new vineyard. He has partnered with his brother, Ben Jordan who is the head wine maker at Early Mountain Vineyards. They are bonded but not producing on site yet as they are “bootstrapping” the winery as they go. So goes the “Glamorous Life” of wine making without the deep pockets of corporate investors. Isn’t this what it is all about? Having a dream of getting to make all the decisions while charting your own course even if it is uncertain at times. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your dreams become reality. Although their stories are unique this is a shared truth for all wine makers. Tim’s 2016 block varietals are Chardonnay, Riesling, Petit Manseng, Blaufrankish, Cabernet Franc and Noiret. His 2019 plantings will be Chardonel, Regent, Chambourcin and Saperavi. Follow Tim on Instagram @valley.vines

Justin Falco is the winemaker/proprietor of Montifalco Vineyard in Ruckersville, Va and one of the ambitious growers that will be planting a Saperavi vineyard this Spring. Justin has always loved the wines of Eastern Europe, France and Switzerland. Because of all the friends and family he has abroad he wanted his winery to reflect his memories of the wine and culture there.  It is little surprise that he will be adding 2000 Saperavi vines to his Central Virginia vineyard that already boasts plantings of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Rkatsitelli.    http://montifalcovneyard.com Instagram @montifalcovineyard

I have followed the Saperavi vineyard that Dr. Rik Obiso planted three years ago at White Barrel in Christiansburg with great interest. This Fall will be the first harvest for those

Vineyards at WhiteBarrel Photo Courtesy: WhiteBarrel Winery

vines and will set the benchmark for what we can expect from Virginia Saperavi. Rik is involved with several research projects that will further the understanding of how “Old World” Saperavi can be best used in Virginia.   http://whitebarrel.com Instagram @whitebarrel

42º North latitude is ground zero for Saperavi in North America. That is exactly where the Saperavi vines of Shalestone Vineyards in Lodi, NY call home. Shalestone is on the east side of Seneca Lake in the “Banana Belt” and has a memorable tag line “RED IS

Photo Courtesy: Shalestone Vineyards

ALL WE DO”. They prove that statement to be true with the makeup of their vineyard. Rob and Kate Thomas have 6.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Lemberger, Pinot Noir. Their 400 Saperavi vines occupy a 1/2 acre plot within the vineyard.  http://shalestonevineyards.com

     Jeff Sawyer is following his passion for wine making in Sterling Valley, NY. He is well on his way to seeing his vision become reality with the establishment of Wellspring Vineyards. He planted 275 Saperavi vines in 2016, less than he wanted to because his original order for 600 plants couldn’t be fulfilled because of a shortage of vines. The following year brought a change of direction with Jeff planting 300 Dornfelder and 250 Gewurztraminer. Wellspring Vineyards now has 1900 vines comprised of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grurztraminer, Dornfelder and Saperavi growing on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario. With the first part of his plan in place Jeff is moving forward with his goal of starting a winery. He said in four or five years they will be known as Wellspring Winery. The proposed site is the perfect setting for a winery/tasting room and will have a great view for his guests. Jeff can be reached at   jsawyerstudios@aol.com

 

Just Saying!!!

Here are a few of my views on recent trends.

I am not a big fan of bottle caps on wine bottles. I have no problem with screw tops or wine in cans but when I see a wine bottle with a cap on top I think back to my childhood and remember bottles of my favorite “Pop” Regent Cherry soda. In Western Pennsylvania carbonated soft drinks, like Coke and Pepsi, were and still are to a certain extent referred to as “Pop”. Maybe it was a shortening of soda pop that led to this regional slang.

Rosé has been riding a steadily ascending arc of popularity over the past several years. I have heard reports that Rosé sales hit their crescendo in the Summer of 2017 and have consolidated over the last 18 months. Although Rosé is thought of as just a summer wine by many it is a category that has proven itself and is here to stay. Traditionally Rosé sales peak during the warm months but year round sales are starting to rise as people realize that this wine pairs well with food in any season.

Orange wine is a curiosity to me because I like to try new things. It has received plenty of attention but I don’t know where it fits into the big picture when it comes to wine in general. We will have to wait and see if it will be taking a place in your wine collection or in the closet next to your Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch Dolls.

My prediction for Chinese wine is that it is too early to tell if all the money China has invested in its domestic wine industry will pay off. There is certainly enough demand for better wine in China now that its middle class is expanding exponentially. In time I believe China will become a major player in the world wine market simply because it has a diverse collection of growing regions, climates, terroirs and affordable labor that can be developed. Will their wines taste like traditional European or New World wines? No, they will taste like those traditional wines made from grapes grown in Chinese soils and expressing a terroir unique to China.

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to sweet wine, French-American hybrid wine and Vitis vinifera wine. Every winemaker that I have visited in Western Pennsylvania is always eager to have me taste their dry wines but are quick to admit that it is the sweet wines that “Keep the lights on”. While it is true the sweeter wines make up the largest segment of wines sold in local wineries it is also true that interest in dry wine is increasing as tastes evolve and wine drinkers look for something new. I have always said that a “Good” wine is one you enjoy drinking. My theory is that many of the people who start going to wineries with friends will enjoy the easy to drink sweet wines and will be content with these wines. Some will become curious and explore the French-American hybrid wines, of which there are many and can be found in both dry and sweet styles. The wines made from French-American hybrid grapes can provide a bridge from sweet wines to Vitis vinifera wines. It is easier for a wine drinker to transition from the sweeter offerings to the drier Vitis vinifera wines by learning to appreciate the differences in wine grapes and the different styles that they can be made into by experiencing these approachable hybrid wines.

I believe wine is at it’s best when enjoyed while making lasting memories with friends and family. If you are doing it right you will always remember the good times and the people but you probably won’t recall what wine you were drinking.  Just Saying!

 

 

Sign of the Times

     In organic viticulture the use of chemicals is strictly controlled by law to the point where almost all the chemicals available to conventional growers are prohibited. Organic growers concentrate on growing healthy vines that are able to withstand pests, disease, fungus, rots and anything else they may encounter in the field while being able to sustain themselves with a robust root system. Conventional growers rely more on chemical solutions for prevention and problem resolution. A balanced ecosystem and healthy soil in the vineyard are essential for organic farming to succeed.

     Biodynamic viticulture takes the idea of growing grapes without the aid of chemical applications a step further. Biodynamic farming looks at a vineyard as an ecosystem unto itself with a system of checks and balances that maintains the system’s equilibrium and prevents any major disruptive events (diseases, insect infestation, animal intrusion, etc.) from affecting the health of the system. Biodynamic farmers incorporate lunar cycles and astrological influences into their decisions. In the U.S.A. wine labeled “organic” is regulated by law. These wines must be made from grapes that are certified to have been organically grown and made without any  sulfites added to them. Wine can be made from “certified organically grown grapes” and have sulfites added to them but the label can’t claim it as “organic wine” but as wine “made from organic grapes”. The difference in wording is subtle but there is a difference in how the wine is produced. Biodynamic wines are also produced from grapes grown in chemical-free biodynamic vineyards but the winemaker is limited to making wine without using any common manipulations, such as adjusting it’s acidity or adding yeasts. As with organic grapes you can find wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” that have been made using different wine making manipulations but as with the “organically grown grapes” the label will read wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” but not biodynamic wine. The U.S. Government does not certify biodynamic wine. Biodynamic wine is certified by the independent Demeter Association. Biodynamic and Demeter are trademarks used to assure consumers that the product has been certified to a uniform standard.

     I have had conversations with wine makers and vineyard owners from the Eastern United States that have seen just about everything that can happen in a vineyard first hand. The one point they were all emphatic about was that although it is possible to grow  organic and biodynamic vineyards here it is very difficult. Any grower wanting to pursue this method of viticulture must first be able to withstand the possibility that their harvest may be dramatically reduced in some years and non-existent in others because of factors they won’t be able to control with the tools they allowed to use. 

     The topic of organic vs. conventional farming has been debated with valid points being made and supported on both sides of the discussion. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that any practice that leads to better wine is always welcome. At the end of the day wine making is a business and like any other business you must be profitable to stay in business. It requires a business plan that is flexible and incorporates a vision that can be transformed into a financially viable enterprise in the real world.

 

Harvest Report 2018

     The 2018 growing season in the Northeastern United States turned out to be one of the most challenging in recent years. I contacted several of the top winemakers/vintners to get their thoughts and opinions about the 2018 season. After reading their responses I decided I couldn’t tell their stories with the same insight and emotions as they did so I am publishing their experiences in their own words. I hope these personal and candid  accounts of a difficult year gives you a better understanding of what it takes to grow grapes and make wine in Pennsylvania and New York.

Chuck Zaleski is owner/winemaker of Fero Vineyards & Winery Lewisburg, PA (Central Pennsylvania). Chuck has always been willing to help me with my blog and I have found him to be honest and straight-forward with his assessments. Thank you Chuck for your guidance and insight.  http://ferovineyards.com

The 2018 grape season in Pennsylvania will be one for the ages, not in a good way. Every grower I know had difficulties this season unlike they had seen before. The flooding, often daily, rains and high humidity started in July and never let up. The direct effects were delayed ripening, higher levels of powdery and downy mildew, and more fruit rot. Yields were down dramatically. The effort required in the vineyard this season was extreme. In our vineyard, the white varieties were more susceptible to mildew and rot. The reds held up a little better but did not ripen as well as usual. As winemaker and vintner, I directed our crew to selectively hand-harvest only the best fruit. We were able to process it in a more favorable style for this vintage. The winemaker’s adjustments in the cellar can really help the final product. We went with more blush production from our red wine grapes. We had a little Saperavi that got ripe enough for red wine. The white varieties were able to mature with good sugars and aroma but in much lower quantities.

Extreme weather like this is a learning opportunity to the attentive vintner. There are limits to the effects of different techniques in managing a vineyard. This season demonstrated those limits. We have developed a plan for the vineyard that will allow us to better handle a year like this and improve the crop in better years. We survived and will be stronger because of it. 

Fred Frank is President of Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars and third generation winemaker at Dr. Frank’s Winery on the western shore of Kueka Lake Hammondsport, N.Y. (Finger Lakes Wine Region). Fred has always been willing to help me and our conversations have given me a greater understanding of winemaking in the FLX and for that I will always be grateful.     http://drfrankwines.com

This has been a challenging harvest for the later ripening varieties. The early varieties did well and we are pleased with their quality. We started our harvest with the sparkling grapes which included Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. All were picked by hand and we were able to sort while picking to insure that we would only harvest high quality grapes. The next grapes to be picked were Gruner Veltliner and Chardonnay that came in with excellent quality. We picked several of our red varieties early for Rose production. This included Pinot Noir, Blaufrankisch and Cabernet Franc. We are excited to be increasing our Dry Rose production to match the increased consumer demand. The most challenging variety later in the season was Riesling due to abundant rainfall. We were able to pick some blocks earlier and also do some sorting and dropping of bad fruit prior to harvest. I will keep you updated as we finish our fermentations with the quality assessment later in the year.

Rich Ripepi owner/winemaker at Ripepi Vineyard Monongahela, PA  (Western Pennsylvania) planted his vineyard on property just a short walk over the hill from his home when a vineyard in this region was unheard of. We have all heard that old real estate adage “Location, Location, Location” being the key to success and it was as true for Rich Ripepi’s vineyard this year as it is for a property’s value. His vines are planted on a steep southeastern facing hillside virtually in sight of the Monongahela River. Thanks to Rich and all the Ripepi Winery family for always greeting me with a warm welcome and making me feel like one of the family when I visit.     http://ripepiwine.com

The harvest this year was the biggest surprise in 30 years of our vineyard. The excess rain increased the juice quantity of our grapes. However, because the rain came from the south, almost all the nights were above 70 degrees, and this made maturity of the grapes the best in 30 years. We are very optimistic about the 2018 vintage.

Tod and Jean Manspeaker have overcome many obstacles to get to the point where their Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery consistently produces award-winning dry wines with premium Vinifera grapes from their own vinifera only vineyard. The Briar Valley Vineyard is on a southeastern facing slope at an elevation of 1200 feet in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains. Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery Bedford, PA  (South Central Pennsylvania). Thanks to Tod and Jean for all the support and friendship you have shown me over the years.   http://briarvalleywinery.com 

As for the harvest and vintage overall, all I can say is I hope we never experience another one like it in my lifetime. It was rain, rain and more rain. The vineyard lay wet most of the season. We sprayed more often than normal. It seemed a vicious cycle of spray, leaf pull, hedge and repeat. We harvested some of the varieties early because the brix weren’t moving and we were worried about rot. Fortunately, we had little rot. The acids and ph in most of the varieties were good, but the brix in all varieties was low. We were careful to reduce crop yield to aid in ripening. We harvested the whites earlier than normal. The reds we allowed to hang in an attempt to tweak a bit more ripeness from them. We harvested our last variety, Cab Franc, on October 12th. The Chardonnay and Riesling are showing well early on. They will have a little less mouthfeel than the 2017 vintage, but have nice flavors. Of all red varieties, the Lemberger will be the star. The other varieties are rounding out and coloring up nicely. They will be leaner than the 2017 vintage, but will each have their own personality. I suppose, all in all, for the challenges presented in 2018, we are fortunate that our wines are developing as well as they are.

I got to know Steve Casscles after reading his book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada”, available on Amazon at http://amazon.com/Grapes-Hudson-Valley-Climate-Regions/dp/0982520832 You might know Steve for his pioneering work with French-American hybrids and his preservation effort with Hudson Valley heirloom varieties not to mention his encyclopedic knowledge of wine grapes. Thanks to Steve for his detailed account of this years growing season at Hudson-Chatham Winery and all the other help he has provided me. Hudson-Chatham Winery Ghent, N.Y. (Hudson Valley).

It was an average Spring, but a bit hot and dry (which is generally abnormal), but lately has not been abnormal at all. For the past few years, I have set out new vines in the early spring to 80 plus temperatures and dry soil conditions. This year I planted about 40 new vines of Palmer, Chelois, Valerian and other old heirlooms like Diana, Winchell and Banc Blanc. While it was not a completely inhospitable Spring, it was relatively dry, but with enough spurts of rain, so all of my new vines did well and my new nursery stock did OK with some watering. 

In later June, it was pretty dry and by early July it rained and rained and rained and continues to rain to this day. So on average, not so warm due to the rain and clouds, but lots of rain. I have never in my 40 years of growing grapes seen so much rain.

Different grape varieties handled the rain differently. My Hudson Valley Heirlooms such as Iona, Jefferson and Empire State did not do so well and lots of black rot. In the Hudson Valley we tend to get more black rot than powdery or downy mildew. These varieties did not fair well at all this time of year. My E.S Rogers hybrids (Salem, MA) also did not fair well at all this year except for Agawam. French-American hybrids did OK even with all the rain. I sprayed a lot, about ever 10 days and used light not hot stuff. Surprisingly not a lot of fungus disease hit the Foch, Baco,Burdin, Chelois or Chambourcin. I had very good production from all of these varieties. Due to the higher than average rainfall, high production levels and cool temperatures our sugars were low. Most years we pick at 21 or 22. This year we picked 18 and were glad to have taken off the crop. In September the sugar levels did  not move after 9/10 so we cried “Uncle” and picked our grapes. In the end our Foch and Leon Millot (Wagner clone) was very productive and surprisingly good acids  (19-20 brix). Our Baco Noir, very productive and did sugars no higher than 18 to 19. Our Palmer red variety (a chance hybrid that I grow here that tastes more like a Malbec or a Chianti) was pretty productive and came in low in sugars at 18 by the 3rd week of September. Some powdery mildew. Our Concord, a bell weather for the Northeast, was not so good with lots of rot, low sugars and it came in late.

We are evaluating our wines now and surprisingly deep colors and acid levels are OK. In the cellar it will be an OK year.

Jim Baker and I became friends when he reached out to let me know that he was growing and making Saperavi. Jim and Cathy Baker are owners/winemakers of Chateau Niagara Winery New Fane, N.Y. (Niagara Lake Plain). Saperavi isn’t the only grape that has proven to be an award-winner from Jim’s vineyard. The Bakers have planted and meticulously cared for a dynamic and diverse vineyard that keeps improving every year. Thank you Jim for your in-depth account of this year’s harvest, a year none of us will ever forget.  http://chateauniagarawinery.com

The 2018 harvest was one of the best in Chateau Niagara’s history. We had a few ups and downs, but overall a great harvest. The fruit quality was the best we have ever had. This is due largely to the addition of a mechanical leaf picker and mechanical hedger, and improved spay protocol. We added a mechanical leaf plucker which allows us to remove the leaves in the fruiting zone in a cost effective, and most importantly, timely method. We are able to do our entire 7 acres of vines in two days, versus one month of hand pulling. The addition of the hedger helped us keep the growth and vigor that we experienced in check. We moved to a 7 day spray schedule compared to the 14 day spray schedule we have used in the past. This showed much better results. We were able to add in a late season spray of Hydrogen Peroxide, a very benign spray that readily breaks down in the environment. This had the effect of halting any late season rots that have plagued us in the past with Fall rains.

The weather this year was interesting. We had a cool, wet start to the year that was followed by a hot, dry summer. We checked on the heat accumulation season and found that we had exceeded 3100 growing degree days (GDD). Our historical average is about 2500 GDD. This extra heat should have made this a superior year. What we found at harvest was an interesting result. This should have been a year with impressive sugars, but turned out to be rather lackluster. Our first fruit came in about 20 brix, or 20% sugar. Expected results in a year like this would have been 24-26 brix. That was however, the only downside. Harvest levels hit their targets, except for the Riesling, which turned in a bumper crop. Ph levels were spot on in 3.3-3.5 levels in the reds and 3.2-3.4 in the whites. Fruit flavors are magnificent and TA levels are within target for the fruit, All in all, a very good year. The initial sampling of the wines so far indicate deep flavors with varietal character.

John McGregor and his McGregor Vineyard are probably best know for his Black Russian Red wine but he also offers a selection of award-winning wines made from his vineyard that dates back to the trailblazing days of Vinifera in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York. I have found John to be refreshingly outspoken and passionate when it comes to his desire to make the best wine possible from his grapes.    http://mcgregorwinery.com

It would be an understatement to say that 2018 was an interesting year for weather here in the Finger Lakes. The cool winter air lingered around right up to May. In fact, I believe we experienced the second coldest April on record. This was immediately followed by the second warmest May on record! Early summer was quite hot and dry we had 90+ degrees for over 20 days in June alone. It stayed hot right into early fall and we were “treated” to excessive precipitation and to humidity that just wouldn’t quit. Ultimately, we ended up with greater problems with sour rot in the vineyards. Pinot Noir and Riesling seemed to be hit hardest in our vineyard, along with the Sereksiya Rose (the variety we blend with Rkatsiteli). In fact we left the entire crop of Sereksiya Rose on the vines, the sour rot just took it over. We ended up dropping more fruit to the ground than typical and instructed our pickers to leave much more behind on the vines than I can ever recall doing. All in all, we finished harvest early and yields in our vineyard were fairly average. This by no means was a disastrous year and much of what came into our cellar was really nice. Surprisingly, our Gewurztraminer was on the side of spectacular. Our Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Saperavi did well. I expect some really solid wines to be produced from this vintage…time will tell!!!

Greendance – The Winery at Sand Hill is the closest winery to my home. It’s synergy with Sand Hill Berries is just too perfect to be a coincidence. In fact, it was the end result of visionary thinking and flawless execution of a plan. In 1982 Rick & Susan Lynn and Rob & Amy Schilling bought and revived an abandon farm near Mt. Pleasant, PA  (Western Pennsylvania) Turning it into a thriving business through determination and hard work. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to spend time with them this year and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them at Greendance in 2019.  http://greendancewinery.com 

We will end up with nearly 75-80 inches of rain this calendar year which is extreme and was reflected in our harvest and in the harvest quality and even the harvestable fruit in nearly all vineyards where we acquire fruit. The best grape quality of all the four vineyards we used this year was our own. where there was very little rot or unusable fruit. The other vineyards include Equivine Vineyard near Coatesville, Pennsylvania where we got Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes. We could not let the fruit hang long enough to get ripe because of the continuously wet fruit. Subsequently, these grapes needed sorted and could have a more “green” character than is typical for these varietals and this is a challenge for wine makers. (i.e. overcoming sour rot, botrytis and under ripeness.) We picked Sauvgnon Blanc and Pinot Gris in the rain at Stag and Thistle Vineyard near Marshallton, Pennsylvania just to salvage them before the hurricane. Our Gruner was picked at a vineyard in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and it suffered the same problems and is a winemaker’s challenge. As is our usual practice, but even more important this year, we maintain a cold chain from the vineyard we picked into 28 degree reefer (refrigerator) trucks all the way to our press to reduce microbial problems. It is understandable with these harvest conditions why here and the rest of the Eastern U.S. this is called a “winemaker’s year”. On a better and more optimistic note our estate wines that contain varietals: Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac,  Chamboursin, Foch and the newcomer Petite Pearl are coming along exceptionally well and the quality now is definitely elevated above the anticipated quality for this type of year. A very bright spot is the new Petite Pearl grape. It is a hybrid from the Minnesota program but is quite distinct in appearance, quality and the malic/tartaric ratio which is very similar to vinifera. The clusters were small and tight and the fruits are barely pea sized with a high skin/pulp ratio. We barrel fermented the whole Petite Pearl berries in new French oak which was a challenge that required barrel rolling scheduled three times/day until fermentation was complete. We expect to plant a larger block of this based on our early experience. 

I count Greg Winslow as one of my newest friends and I’m anxious to watch as his vineyard in Perryopolis, PA  (Western Pennsylvania) develops it’s personality. The Winslow Winery boasts 16 varieties of grapes and currently five Estate grown releases. Thanks for the help Greg and I look forward to seeing you soon.

One thing that seemed very different this year versus years past, aside from the copious amounts of rain was the transition of seasons. I believe our last measurable snow was April 17th. Even when it wasn’t snowing in April it was cool and dreary. As a result, budbreak didn’t occur until the beginning of May for us. This is a little later for some of our varieties. We thought the late budbreak would work in our favor as far as frosts go, but that didn’t happen. We still had a light frost event mid-May that caused some damaged to the new buds, but it wasn’t catastrophic.

After that frost it went straight into Summer, or at less it seemed like it. We had a lot of heat and humidity all summer. It seemed that the leaves and grape bunches were constantly wet through out the summer, from either rain or humidity. We deleafed almost 100% around the fruit zone to try to keep the bunches as dry as possible. I sprayed religiously every 7-10 days trying to keep diseases at bay and I think I was successful. Insect pressure was not a problem through out the summer.

I thought the fruit looked pretty clean going into the month of September considering how wet the summer was. We were a little lighter on crop load than I wanted but the fruit looked good. Then harvest started. We were able to pick a few white varieties that were ready before the remnants of Hurricane Gordon pasted through the area. I could have picked more varieties but I was taking a chance in hopes that the fruit would develop more and that we wouldn’t get hit too hard, but I was wrong. We got about 6 1/2 inches of rain from that episode. Some of the varieties did OK with the rain. Chardonel and Traminette, some did not. Riesling in particular. After that event we kept a watchful eye out for berry splitting and bunch rot. The remaining grapes did mature further but I think that massive amount of rain stunted their growth right in the critical time of their development. We did a field sort on almost all the remaining grapes to try to keep the quality as high as possible. The bulk of the remaining grapes were harvested within two weeks after Gordon came through. The last grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Chambourcin were harvested the second week of October. The decision was made due to a forecasted temperature drop. This was too early in my opinion. In the past we usually pick these the end of October, even into the first week of November. It was a difficult year, a character builder for sure. I should be pleased that we were fortunate to get some fruit. I estimate that we lost 30% due to frost damage and late season rot. As for the quality that comes from this fruit, time will tell. I have talked to a few growers from Virginia and it seems that they had it much worse. I have been told that they chose not to harvest a lot of their reds due to quality issues. The Erie Pennsylvania area on the other hand I was told had been spared most of the late season rain.    http://winslowwinery.com 

     Please share this post. I wouldn’t want to see all the hard lessons learned this seasons lost before they can help winemakers in the future. Please tell me your thoughts and experiences.