2016 was a successful vintage in the Finger Lakes. White wines exhibit typical pure, clean Finger Lakes fruit flavors and balance and red wines are bold and ripe. Wine quality is high and wine volume varies from normal to 10% – 20% below normal depending on varietal and producer.
The 2015/2016 winter was much warmer than normal – with a one-day exception. Feb 14th. Temperatures dropped precipitously and some producers experienced bud damage in a few varieties. With the complex landscapes and vineyard aspects, the impact varied with vineyard location and variety. Given the developing labor shortages in the region, and the generally very warm winter, many producers had started pruning. Those that had not started or were not completed made adjustments by leaving additional canes with buds to facilitate a full crop.
The spring was cool (no frost episodes) with lower than normal rainfall. May and June growing degree days (GDD) were slightly above normal and dry.
The summer was the driest and warmest in 50 years – and drought conditions developed in many vineyards. GDD at 2854 for the vintage was 15% above the 40 year average. Drought stress contributed to less vigorous canopy development and lower berry size and weight. Rainfall at 15.7 inches was 31% below normal. The combined effects of the Feb 14 cold snap and the dry conditions mitigated the impact of the heat such that in general, grapes were harvested without the excessively high sugar levels. In most instances grapes were surprisingly close to average brix levels.
The drought affected young vineyards and they required irrigation. Many producers dropped some or all fruit in such vineyards especially those that were stressed. Since the majority of vineyards lack irrigation, this was accomplished at great effort, manually. Vineyards on shallow soils (a minority in the FLX) also suffered with reduced production.
The dryness and lack of moisture considerably reduced disease pressure and provided an ideal condition for growing and harvesting clean fruit of high quality. In some vineyards the volume of a few varietals was reduced by 10% to 20%.
In 2016 full flavor development was delayed in some vineyards. However, the harvest started about a week earlier than usual (since some canopies were shutting down) and was completed (mostly) by Oct 17 – 19 when the rains came. With half the month over, October still experienced 7 inches, more than twice the long-term average rainfall for the month.
In general, the vintage produced high quality, clean grapes with close to average sugar levels, slightly lower acidities, and slightly higher pHs. Some winemakers made slight acidity adjustments to some fermentations. Flavors are clean and pure – since little or no disease was present. It is early days yet, but 2016 is looking like a vintage with good white and exceptional red wines.
This report was compiled from information provided by the Finger Lakes Grape Program, supplemented by commentaries from members of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance producers and winemakers.
———–2016 Temperature & Rainfall Charts ————-
The 2015 vintage was a bit warmer (8%) than the long-term average and total rainfall was a bit higher (8%) than average.
The winter for the 2015 vintage (2015 – 2016) was colder than for the previous year (that was also a cold winter). Two cold winters in a row had an impact in the Finger Lakes causing growers to invest more labor in vineyards as vineyard management practices were adjusted to account for injured buds and vines.
The very cold winter also meant that the vines were even more winter hardy than they usually are (assessment based on testing conducted by extension personnel from Cornell University). As a result, while a number of vineyards did sustain winter injury for a second or third straight year, many vineyards ended up with close to normal crops for the year.
Spring (April and May) was a lot warmer than average (+43%) due to a very warm May. The spring was also a bit drier than average (-8%).
The summer months (June, July, August) were just slightly cooler than average. A gully-washer June had twice the usual rainfall so vineyardists needed to stay vigilant in dealing with higher disease pressure. However, the wetter June was followed by a drier July and a much drier August drying out vineyard soils and setting a strong stage for the harvest.
August, September and October – the period of veraison (that occurred a little earlier than usual), ripening and harvest – was somewhat warmer and drier than average. A much warmer September (+42%) meant that the heat units for this critical period finished 10% above average. The dryer August and much drier October (38% less rain) really helped ensure a healthy, ripe crop with typical Finger Lakes freshness.
The additional heat in May and subsequent weather pushed the harvest to being seven to eight days early.
The 2015 vintage demonstrated with great clarity the flexibility and adaptability that Finger Lakes winegrowers are practicing in the vineyards to respond to vintage variation.Overall, the 2015 vintage wines have more definition, freshness and weight than was the case for 2014 (also a strong vintage).
Our thanks to the Cornell Cooperative extension program for their support in providing information for the FLWA summary of the 2015 vintage.
The temperature variations of the early part of the 2013/14 winter featured warm periods that de-acclimated vines to some extent. Low temperatures in January that followed damaged vinifera buds. The winter remained cold. Damage was most severe in the northern ends of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. Consequently many growers modified pruning to leave additional buds and canes. In general terms, crop volumes were down in 2014 quite considerably although the degree varied by variety and specific vineyard situation. For example, Riesling at harvest came through much better off than had been expected in the spring.
A late spring was followed by an indifferent summer. April was a bit below the long-term average summation of growing degree-days (GDD). May and June were a bit above normal but then July and August were cooler – the season to the end of August being about 3% below normal. September GDD was just slightly more than normal and October was about 37% warmer than normal. Overall 2014 heat accumulation (2457 GDD) finished close to the long-term average (2478 GDD). The story of the vintage lies with rainfall. Rain in April, May and June was slightly (2%) above the long-term average (9.61 in) for the three months. The heavens opened in July with 7.81 in.; almost three times the long-term average! Disease pressure mounted and required a great deal of attention in the vineyard. While rain in August was about normal – the 2014 season to the end of August was about 26% above long term average (thanks to July). Veraison and ripening were considerably delayed.
The vintage was saved by a mostly dry and sunny September and October. An extremely dry September (0.92 in.) was 74% below long-term average rainfall. October rain was 14% below average. While 2014 rainfall (24.2 in.) finished up with a little above average rainfall (23.1 in.), it was the marvelous September & October (‘catch-up’ weather) of more sun and less rain that provided ideal conditions for ripening. This led to a very compressed harvest – tough on winegrowers with varieties overlapping and long hours on the crush pad.
2014 wines exhibit good weight and clear fruit and are structured and well defined. Finger Lakes Riesling has great freshness and focus. Vintage 2014 is a good, solid Finger Lakes vintage with fresh and expressive reds and whites.
Our thanks to the Cornell Cooperative extension program for their support in providing information and commentary for our summary.
The winter of 2012-2013 was average in terms of cold temperatures and the Finger Lakes did not experience any significant negative extremes. Overall bud damage was very limited (10% and under).
Bud break was close to normal and occurred from the end of April to the beginning of May. Warming occurred slowly with no spring frosts. Conditions were somewhat cloudy and rainy during bloom and fruit set but did not seem to impact fruit set. On average, the growing season was wetter than normal (+15%). These circumstances encouraged shoot growth and increased disease pressure (downy mildew, botrytis).
The excellent conditions during the 2012 vintage encouraged buds leading to a very large crop in 2013. Crop size & weather combined with full canopies meant that producers had to maintain accurate spray programs – but nothing close to the challenges of 2011.
At the end of August the season pivoted and was much drier than normal through early October, the heart of the ripening period – ensuring a sound vintage. The 2013 vintage experienced 2575 GGDs (growing degree days) – just a tad cooler than a ten-year average (2629).
With good vineyard practices the norm, and with some sorting in the field and crush pad, the vintage has produced expressive wines that are medium bodied, balanced with moderate alcohol and good Finger Lakes typicity.
With thanks and acknowledgement to the Finger Lakes Grape Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The 2012 growing season in the Finger Lakes was exceptional. With good fruit set, warm weather and just sufficient rain, a solid crop achieved full ripening. Red and white wines exhibit excellent varietal expression with the reds having the darkest color in years.
Growing degree day accumulation was almost identical to 2010, the warmest growing season that the Finger Lakes has had in over 40 years. As of August 30, the region had accumulated as many growing degree days as it normally does by the end of October. Rainfall totals were below average in most months as well, particularly in May, June and August, which helped to keep disease pressure low for most of the growing season. While the area did go through a stretch of several weeks with very little rainfall in late May, June and July, most vineyards were not as significantly impacted by drought stress as many other types of crops in other parts of the East and Midwest.
The warm weather meant that the vineyards were ahead of schedule in terms of bloom, veraison and harvest. Most varieties were picked 2-3 weeks earlier than normal, and because disease pressure remained low even with the return of some rain during harvest, later ripening varieties were picked on full fruit characteristics and flavor development. Disease pressure remained low even with some rain during the very tail of harvest.
As can be anticipated in a warm year, brix development was higher than normal in a number of varieties. Good acidity levels are an important component for many Finger Lakes wines, especially Riesling. Acidity levels in fruit can be problematic in warm years like 2012 but this was not especially the case.
Vintage 2011 in Finger Lakes has yielded very pleasant wines for current consumption; with particular strength in Riesling and other aromatic whites including Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Wines exhibit Finger Lakes balance with lower than average acids being compensated by lower pH thus retaining the impression of crispness.
A mild winter followed by a cool, moist spring established conditions for above average yields. July and August were generally hot and dry, providing advantage to vineyards with access to natural moisture or irrigation. September and October were average other than consistent cloud cover and rain episodes that kept potential alcohol (sugar accumulation) to modest levels.
Vineyard and cellar practices required continuous adjustment, especially in the weeks leading up to harvest. With botrytis pressure, crop selection strategies were especially significant in assuring quality. Producers that practiced sound crop management and delayed harvesting varieties such as Riesling and Cabernet Franc to the end of October were well rewarded by a much drier and warmer period with superior results.
In general, the 2011 vintage has demonstrated the growing maturity and quality drive of Finger Lakes vineyard and winery practices with lighter, charming & expressive wines.