A ‘difficult year’ for North Fork grape growers

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Juan Lopez harvests chardonnay grapes in Paumanok's Tuthill Lane vineyard last Wednesday afternoon. They have to be hand-picked to remove the grapes that have rotted in the clusters.

Grape growers on the North Fork have been hit hard by the wet weather of the past few weeks, which damaged thin-skinned white grapes just before they were due to be harvested.

“Some of the fruit deteriorated and had to be cleaned up before it was harvested. It was more work and a reduced yield,” said Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue.

“Before the hurricane, we were looking at a beautiful outcome, but this year has been a little bit more eventful than we imagined,” he added.

Sal and Maryann Diliberto of Diliberto Winery in Jamesport told a Times/Review photographer this weekend that this has been the worst year ever for farming their grapes, and that they are looking to buy chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes to augment their harvest.

The timing of the deluges of late September was near perfect, however, for growers at Sparkling Pointe in Peconic, who harvest their grapes for sparkling wine earlier than most producers, in order to produce wine with more acidity and less sugar content than non-sparkling wines.

“We got lucky,” said Sparkling Pointe winemaker Gilles Martin. “We started on the 10th [of September] and finished on the 21st.”

“We had an excellent crop in terms of yield and quality,” he added.

Mr. Martin said he has heard from other growers whose grapes were not ripe enough to pick before the rains that the rain had swelled the grapes to the bursting point, and in some cases had led to a fungus known as “sour rot” that further damaged the fruit.

But he said most growers who were fighting the fungus have gotten a reprieve from Mother Nature this week, as the hot, dry weather has helped to dry out the fruit.

“They’re doing way better now,” he said.

Mr. Massoud, of Paumanok Vineyards, said rains during warm weather are particularly damaging to grapes.

“If it rains a great deal and at the same time the weather is warm, the vines pull the water from the ground and dispatch it to the fruit,” he said. “It ends up essentially diluting the wine and reduces the intensity of flavor. In extreme cases it causes the fruit to pop.”

Mr. Martin said that sauvignon blanc grapes, in particular, were likely to be damaged by heavy rains, because they have very thin skins.

Mr. Massound said his vineyard started picking red grapes on Saturday, and that the crop seems to be decent.

“Reds are tougher. They usually have thicker skins,” he said. “We may end up salvaging some very reasonable red wines out of what was a difficult year.”

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