Winegrowing on the Margins

March 5, 2014–  Several notable wine books claim that the best wines in the world are made on the margins–places that are barely warm enough to ripen grapes.  These places are thought to produce wines with fascinating complexity and nuance.  The Finger Lakes has always been a marginal growing region, where vines struggle just to survive, much less thrive.  A series of above-average-temperature winters over the past 9 years had pushed that idea into the back of many minds.  This winter has brought this shivering reality back into the forefront.

“Every winter we take a risk that our entire vineyard will die,” said Silver Thread Winemaker Paul Brock. “There’s no question that it could happen in this climate.”

A neighbor whose family has been in the grape-growing business for several generations told us that she has never recorded so many nights of below-zero temperatures at their vineyard as this year.  A recent meeting of local grape growers revealed that some vineyards in the Finger Lakes have lost their entire 2014 crop from the extreme lows.

Our Vineyard Manager, Duane Riegel, took cuttings of our vines last week and found minimal damage in most varieties at Silver Thread.  We don’t anticipate that we lost any vines.  As far as losses to the buds that will produce this year’s crop, we expect some damage but nothing compared to many of our neighbors.  The hardest hit variety in our vineyard was Gewurztraminer, the most cold-tender variety we grow, so we anticipate a smaller crop than normal from those vines this year.  Luckily, we had an above-average crop in 2013 to compensate!

Caywood, the hamlet that contains Silver Thread, has always fared well during extreme cold events in the Finger Lakes.  The coldest recorded temperature at our vineyard this winter was -9 for one hour on the night of January 22.  Compare that to -22 recorded in some other Finger Lakes vineyards the same night.  (In general, resilient varieties like Riesling and Cabernet Franc can survive to -18 degrees.)  Our location overlooking the deepest part of Seneca Lake provides a wonderful buffer.

It’s hard to believe that during this month just 2 years ago, we were out pruning in 80 degree weather!  See a post, Pins and Needles, from March 2012 about unusual weather conditions in that year.

The photo for this post shows Turtle Falls, a waterfall that borders our property, completely frozen over.