It’s harvest time in the Lehigh Valley! Harvest is an exciting time, but also full of fear, frustration, and keeping your fingers crossed that Mother Nature is kind. Several vineyards have started picking their grapes for the 2017 vintage. The harvest season for Pennsylvania (and most of the East Coast) is typically mid-August to early October.
According to Rich Wooley, owner and winemaker at Weathered Vineyards in New Tripoli, PA, harvest is late this year compared to 2016, and the weather has been a big factor. “So far things are running about 2 weeks behind last year and up until this recent spike in heat and sunshine, it was looking very poor for the red wines and mediocre for the whites. This heat, though, is saving the 2017 vintage! Sugars are rising nicely and acid is dropping just in time and no rain.”
As all winemakers know, rain is a not a vineyard’s friend. The biggest challenge stated by all the winemakers was too much rain earlier this year (which I think we can all agree with) and cool temperatures. Paul Shumaker, winemaker at Tolino Vineyards in Bangor, PA said, “The great gray month of May (was the challenge). 70% of the days were cloudy and we had at least 16 days of rainfall in May, coupled with a low temperature of 34 degrees F. Then we really loved the monsoon months of July and August, again with cooler temperatures.” To say it’s been an unusual summer in the Lehigh Valley would be putting it mildly.
Farming is always about the weather, all year round. “While we watch multiple weather models daily, flexibility is really the key,” stated Sarah Troxell, owner and winemaker from Galen Glen Vineyards in Andrea, PA. Rich Blair, owner and winemaker from Setter Ridge Vineyards (formerly Blair Vineyards) in Kutztown, PA, is a little more blunt; “This season sucks. The cool, wet weather of June, July, August, and early September left us with rot, downy mildew, and two weeks late to harvest.”
Despite the rough weather for grapes, overall the 2017 vintage is shaping up well due to the heat spike mid to late September and loads of sunshine. Troxell is pleasantly surprised. “It’s [2017 vintage] exceeded our expectations. This push of dry weather and heat has really helped ripen the grapes.” Pinot Noir, an early-ripening grape and thin-skinned, seems to have suffered the most from the weather. Most winemakers reported losses in quality and quantity with Pinot Noir. Blair stated that his “Pinot Noir crop will be reduced by 70% this year” which is one of his signature varietals.
However, the whites seem to be picking up great acidity which means they should pair great with food and the late-ripening grapes such as Cabernet Franc are loving the heat and sunshine. Bob Hackett, owner and winemaker at Hackett Wine located in New Tripoli, PA, agrees. “The Cabernet Franc is ripening beautifully with this stretch of heat and sun and should have great structure and fruit. We’ll try to hold off picking it as late as we can in October to get it as ripe as possible.”
All the winemakers stated that they will be picking into late October this year due to the weather causing a late start in the ripening of the grapes. Although picking grapes into late October comes with its own risks – namely frost. An early frost can damage the grapes resulting in loss. But as Shumaker says, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
We’re wishing all the vineyards the best as they go forward in the 2017 harvest season!