November 28, 2016–
The headline for the 2016 growing season in the Finger Lakes is “extreme drought.” Prior to this year, the driest growing season on record for the Finger Lakes was 1973. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Finger Lakes Grape Program in Geneva, rainfall during the 2016 growing season was only half as much as 1973. At our site in Caywood, we got a little more rain than the rest of the region, but still well below the 1973 numbers.
Rewinding to the beginning, we had an overall mild winter punctuated by two extreme cold events– Valentine’s Day weekend (below zero temperatures) and the night of April 8 (single digits when sap was flowing). These cold events caused bud damage and reduced crop at some colder sites. Silver Thread avoided cold damage except in Gewurztraminer due to our warmer location that is fully within the “lake effect” zone.
The growing season started in mid-May (which is a bit later than normal). Sunny weather during flowering led to very good fruit set that compensated for some of the winter damage and smaller berry size from the drought.
Due to the late start of the growing season, growing degree days were average at the beginning of August. However, extremely warm and sunny weather throughout August resulted in the region being 8 growing degree days ahead of normal by the end of the month. 2016 has been one of the warmest years on record for the region.
Warm and dry weather continued until October 20, at which point most of the vineyards were completely harvested. The lack of rainfall has meant very low disease pressure. There is little to no botrytis in Riesling. Heat has also led to lower-than-normal acidity in all varieties. Sugar levels, however, have been average. The extensive sunshine would have predicted higher sugar levels, but we believe the lack of water available to the vines (due to the drought) prevented more sugar production.
Silver Thread Vineyard gave an average to slightly above average yield of fruit this year. We had predicted a smaller crop due to the drought, but the good fruit set compensated for that. Flavors are very good and the lower acids are leading to more depth and breadth on the palate in the wines.
Age of vines was important this year, with older vines on deeper soils being less affected by the drought than younger vines and/or vines on shallow soil. We were very thankful to have irrigation available for our lakeside vineyard (very shallow soil), otherwise we would probably have had to drop all of the fruit in order to save the vines. Our oldest vines in the upper vineyard (that are on deeper soil) showed little to no drought stress. Doyle Fournier Vineyard (very deep soil and planted in 1973) showed little to no stress and only slightly decreased yield. At Gridley Bluff Point Vineyard (younger vines that suffered significant winter damage) fruit had to be thinned as the vines showed more stress from the drought. This will probably be a year where vineyard differences between wines will be highly distinctive.