A Glorious Harvest 2016
The Sheldrake Point Winery harvest 2016 is complete! I sat down with my colleagues Winemaker Dave Breeden, Assistant Winemaker Julia Hoyle, and Vineyard Manager Dave Wiemann to share a toast and talk about the growing season, the fruit we brought in, and what’s next:
Dave Wiemann on Drought, Timing, and Harvest 2016
It is old news now that 2016 was exceptionally hot and dry. Dangerously dry for many places around the Finger Lakes, but nearly perfect for Sheldrake Point!
Why? Two words: Subterranean water. (Read more about that here.)
I have long entertained a theory that we really don’t need rain May through October—we have a spring on our property that fills the pond and flows under the vineyard. This year my theory has been proven true as that underground flow of water kept the vines from being drought-stressed, and we were able to water new plantings from the pond.
So while drought conditions might have presented challenges for other growers, our vines at Sheldrake Point did great.
Why? Two more words: No disease.
Without rain, there was no chance for pathogens to develop! Rainfall results in moisture trapped in the grape clusters, and this causes mold to grow. Wetter seasons create more opportunity for the growth of mold, and so the drought of summer 2016 eliminated the threat of disease pressure in our vineyard.
However, the heat did present challenges. It was at times almost too hot for the grapes. Those 90+ degree days and warmer nighttime temperatures in August caused malic acids levels to drop. At peak just before veraison, malic acid is released during a chemical process called respiration as the vine progresses through ripening. When all the malic acid is used up in the grape, it is considered “over-ripe.” This is the reason we hastened harvest for our Riesling so as to not lose more acid.
Harvest 2016 overall progressed quickly as all the fruit was nearly ripe when we started, and we were done within 18 days—typically, our harvests extend into November! We had two weeks of intense and steady harvesting—because of the sunny, dry, and clear conditions, we could harvest at-will!
The dry weather, the sunshine, and the heat really made for a phenomenal season. In fact, summer 2016 in the Finger Lakes was more like a warm-climate growing season. We brought in 235 total tons of the second weightiest fruit we have ever grown.
Dave Breeden and Julia Hoyle on Crops and Winemaking
Crop-wise we are very happy with Sheldrake Point Harvest 2016! From a winemaking perspective, there was no downside to the drought. Berry size and total crop size were both unaffected, despite warnings. As Dave Wiemann says, the greatest upside of the drought was that no rain meant no disease pressure.
We were sitting on pins and needles because this is the Finger Lakes and we expected the rain to arrive at some point. Heading into the first week of October though, we were still dry and picking. We especially wanted to get the Pinot Gris in before the rain came, and even winery co-owner Fran Littin pitched in picking to help make that happen.
Luckily we brought in the last of the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon—both of which tasted great!—the day before four inches of rain came down on the vineyard.
All that is left out in the vineyard now is Riesling and Cabernet Franc in anticipation of making ice wine. Yes, you heard it here first—if Old Man Winter comes through, we will again have Cabernet Franc ice wine! A heavier crop of Cab Franc means we have more than enough for both our Dry Rosé and our red wine program, so the remainder is netted and waiting for the cold to arrive. And, again, this is the Finger Lakes. We have never had a year that we wanted to make ice wine and it didn’t get cold enough.
We are working on much more in the cellar with Riesling:
Archival Riesling. During our vertical tastings, we all agreed that Rieslings which are more than 6-7 years old and slightly above 1% residual sugar are shining stars among Sheldrake Point Rieslings. So, while the Archival Riesling will be of the same caliber as our Reserve Riesling, it will have slightly higher residual sugar and presents an opportunity for extended cellaring. The plan is to start small with 200 cases that we will sell exclusively through tasting room.
Wild Ferment Dry Riesling. Taken from the same juice lot as the Archival, the Wild Ferment Riesling is a dry style. We took 115 gallons and are letting it ‘do its thing’. The first 5-6 days of the ferment was active, and now as fermentation continues the wine is getting as dry as it wants to be. It is shaping up to be a very pretty, floral wine, and very distinct from our other Rieslings.
With Harvest 2016 over, our 2016 vintage is now well underway. Wine production is up by 25%, so we harvested everything (and expect to harvest for ice wine) in anticipation of supporting the great work our sales team has done to promote Sheldrake Point Winery.