2023 Vintage Report: A Wild Ride With a Soft Landing

You know the feeling of getting on a roller coaster at the amusement park? There’s ups and downs, twists and turns, unexpected accelerations, your heart goes up into your throat a couple of times…and then the cars come to a gentle stop and your vital signs return to normal. The 2023 growing season was a lot like that: a tumultuous journey that ended with some really nice wines.

It began around April 25 with budbreak (i.e. the vines beginning to grow). That’s a little earlier than normal, but nothing too scary. Then, the most horrific thing happened: a spring frost on May 18 with temperatures dipping below freezing for about 6 hours. The frost killed a lot of the tender green tissue that was going to produce fruit, about 20% loss overall in our vineyard. We consider ourselves very lucky because some of our colleagues experienced much more severe damage.

From May 9 to June 9, we had drought conditions with virtually no rain falling. Then from June 10-August 10, nearly three times as much rain fell compared to average for that time of year. During the drought, we needed to hand-water our young vines to keep them alive. Once it started raining in earnest, we had to be hyper-vigilant about protecting the vines from fungal disease with biological sprays.

Not enough thrills for you yet? During those same three months of “drought-deluge-deluge” (May 9-August 9), we also experienced several days of severe smog from the wildfires in Northern Quebec. While the smoke was high in the atmosphere and didn’t cause the sort of “smoke taint” damage you hear about in California, it blocked out the sunshine and reduced photosynthesis for our vines.

Things started looking up by mid-August, with a return to normal levels of rainfall and warm, sunny days. Mid-August marks the beginning of “veraison,” when the grapes change color and begin their final ripening phase, so this couldn’t have happened at a better time. Concerns about fungal disease dissipated with the drier weather and sunshine. All we had left to do was keep the raccoons and deer from eating the grapes! We deployed a ton of netting this year, and we got a leg up on the critters at last.

Bruce and Paul in the vyd.

Harvest began on September 20 and concluded October 27. It was an intense six weeks of picking, pressing and fermenting, but our team was up for the challenge. All of the fruit had very nice ripeness as measured by the numbers (sugar, acid, pH) and taste-testing (skin development and flavors). Both red and white varieties ripened exactly as we would want them to, and the result is some very nice wines.

2023 Riesling grapes during harvest  Bruce picking grapes   Volunteer pickers at Silver Thread

It’s kind of crazy that after such a wild year, the 2023 wines will probably be considered “typical.” We prefer to call them “Goldilocks” wines—not too intense but intense enough, not too high or low in acid, not too light or too heavy. 2023 wines won’t be considered “rock stars” like the 2022s or be much-maligned (unfairly, we think) like the 2021s. But after the challenges of 2023, it’s a little bit of poetic justice that the wines are just fine, thank you. It’s as if Mother Nature is telling us that the Finger Lakes is someplace special. But you already knew that. 😉

Phew… catch your breath…the roller coaster ride has stopped and its time to get out. We look at each other and simultaneously say, “Want to go again?” The answer, of course, is “YES!”