2010: L.I.’s best grape season ever?

09/09/2010 12:00 AM |

Palmer Vineyards winemaker Miguel Martin holds up a chardonnay grape Friday morning. Some local winemakers are calling the summer of 2010 the best yet in Long Island’s more than 30 years of growing grapes.

The fizzling of Hurricane Earl last Friday was a welcome relief to winemakers, who are anticipating a banner year for North Fork wines.

The hot, dry summer has provided nearly perfect grape-growing weather — some winemakers say the best ever — and Friday’s steady, even rainfall and lack of strong wind did little to dampen their hopes for excellent wine.

Miguel Martin, the winemaker at Palmer Vineyards in Aquebogue, said Friday that he will begin picking grapes within the next two weeks.

“If we get nice hot days, we could be picking fruit as early as a week from now,” he said. “Cloudy days delay the harvest. In June, July and August it was very dry. The fruit looks very nice, clean and healthy.”

Mr. Martin said that the brix level, a measurement of sugar content that is one indicator of the grapes’ readiness for harvest, was between 18 and 20 for his chardonnay grapes on Friday. He tends to pick chardonnay at between 22.5 and 23 brix.

Mr. Martin said he’ll use his winemaking objectives in deciding when to pick. Grapes that are tank-fermented need a lower sugar content than barrel-fermented grapes, and therefore require less time on the vine, he explained.

“If the weather is compatible, I will leave it hanging,” Mr. Martin said. “I will never base the decision to pick on numbers only.”

Most of the grapes at Sparkling Pointe in Southold had been picked in advance of Friday’s storm, on target with the early harvest for the lower sugar content of sparkling wine.

“We have picked the pinot noir, chardonnay in advance of the storm, but we usually pick early regardless,” said owner Tom Rosicki. “The only thing we haven’t picked, we recently acquired some acres of merlot that is still on the vine, but that’s really not part of our prime product.”

At Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue, winemaker Greg Gove said field crews had picked eight acres of riesling grapes last Thursday night and Friday morning, before the rainy remnants of Hurricane Earl hit the North Fork.

“They have thin-skinned clusters that are tightly packed,” he said of his riesling grapes. “Research has shown us that if there’s one rain event, raindrops will spread mold far and wide.”

Mr. Gove plans to bring in chardonnay grapes next, probably within two weeks.

“I think this one is actually the best year ever,” he said. “This is the hottest, driest vintage I’ve seen on Long Island. The plants are a little bit stressed, but the best vintages are stressed.”

Mr. Gove added that he’s beginning to harvest grapes earlier than ever in his 26 years in the industry here, and that the early harvest will take place before birds begin to migrate, saving the 10 to 20 percent of the crop that’s usually eaten by birds.

“Right now, I just hope there’s no more hurricanes, real or fake ones 150 miles away,” he said in reference to Earl. “We’re looking for cool nights and no rain.”

Winemaker Juan Sepulveda of Laurel Lake Vineyards in Laurel had begun to harvest the first pinot noir grapes on Wednesday. He plans to bring in the gewÃ