The full force of Irene never quite reached us here in the Champlain Valley. We even were able to keep our tasting room open during that stormy, but actually mostly rainy, Sunday and we hosted many a stranded visitor. The next day was sunny and we inspected all our vineyards. Virtually no damage! Except for a few slightly tilted trellis posts, all looked intact.
A few days later the Louise Swenson and Marquette vines planted on our winery site told a different story. All that moisture in the soil caused the nearly ripe grapes to swell up and start to crack. And, wherever a crack appears there is danger of rot. We are not complaining, we certainly were very lucky compared to our neighbors just a little bit south of us. But up to that point in time our grapes were sailing into harvest in perfect condition. We were kind of relaxed going into the harvest season. Now we had to rapidly develop emergency plans.
The swelling phenomenon occurred on our Louise Swenson vines first. Louise Swenson form large beautiful white grape clusters with reasonably thin skins. When we discovered the cracking we made the decision to harvest immediately. Thanks to a super crew of 15 or so local Vermonters we got the entire 3 ton crop off the vines very quickly. We started at 8 AM on Sunday the 11th of September and finished by 11 AM the same day. We would have liked to keep the grapes on the vines a few more days, but we got to them in time to prevent what was a very high quality crop from going downhill. The delicious tasting juice is now fermenting away in our winery.
The next Irene target turned out to be our Flagship red grape, Marquette. The grapes started to shrivel due again, to thin skins on grapes starting to swell and the cracks providing luscious targets for honey bees to feast on. We accelerated that harvest by a week or so and this last Sunday picked them all. There is no shortage of sweetness in the harvested grapes as the brix reading (percentage by weight that is sugar) came in at 26.8! We will strive to make as good a red wine with these grapes as we did with the 2010 Marquette vintage. Stay tuned.
We’ve inspected our other vineyard plantings for Irene effects. All our other varieties look fine except our Riesling on our Meach Cove site. Riesling, being of pure European parentage, is our most susceptible grape to any potential non planned-for happening. Sure enough, the Riesling leaves, which up that that point in time were in pristine condition, developed a serious case of downy mildew. The leaves went downhill, losing green area needed for full ripening of the Riesling grapes. Right now the leaf canopy looks like it would normally look like in late fall……a little green and a lot of brown. We’ve stopped the progression of the mildew on the leaves with an application of a mild fungicide suitable for application close to harvest (phosphorus acid), but the ripening power of the vines is significantly diminished. Riesling is the latest variety to ripen so we have another 2 to 3 weeks before harvest. We expect these very nice, disease-free grape clusters, absent sufficient green power, will not lose sufficient acid to make a good dry or semi-dry wine. So there is the phrase “when you have lemons, make lemonade.” We won’t make lemonade from these grapes, but our plan now is to make a sweet dessert wine. Yup, when you have high acid, you make sweet wine to balance the acid on the palate. The finest sweet dessert wines have high acid so we have high hopes for making a quality after- dinner wine with these grapes.
Again, we are not complaining, but we are changing our plans to accommodate to what turned out to be a latent Irene effect.