Harvest in the Northeast

Warm to hot and dry conditions after Labor Day yield mostly above-average harvest

by Linda Jones McKee
wine  wineries vineyards new york harvest
A mechanical harvester drops fruit into bins at Fox Run Vineyards in Pen Yan, N.Y.

Lancaster, Pa.—The eastern wine industry can see a wide range of weather events over the course of the growing season. This fall, however, growers, winery owners, researchers and extension advisors told Wines & Vines the harvest was mostly “average to above average.”

Long Island, N.Y.
Growers along the entire East Coast approach harvest with the same major concern: Will there be any hurricanes before the grapes are safely in the tanks or barrels? Last year saw no major hurricanes anywhere in the East, so when Hurricane Harvey grew in strength while heading for Texas this year, growers’ apprehension increased.

Between Labor Day and the second week of October, five major hurricanes created devastation from Texas to Puerto Rico, but only the New Jersey shore and Long Island, N.Y., were threatened by high winds and multiple inches of rain from Hurricane Jose. Between 3 and 5 inches of rain were predicted Sept. 19-20, with sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph, according to Alice Wise, senior viticulture research and extension associate with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, N.Y. Instead, the hurricane moved slowly south of Long Island with much lower winds, and the grapegrowing region received less than an inch of rain.

Like much of the region, Long Island had experienced a cool and wet August, and harvest began one to two weeks later than usual. However, September turned much warmer and more humid than normal; as a consequence, growers faced issues with downy mildew on some wine grape varieties.

Wise reported in the Oct. 20 “Véraison to Harvest” update that, “Across the board, Brix are moderate, generally 20º-21º, and acids are moderate to low, depending on yield. We’ve learned from years past that these numbers are not undesirable, just different from the seasons with 23° Brix fruit. In tasting berries in the vineyard, there is definitely balance among sugars, acids and flavors. The difference is that in seasons like this, flavors tend to be more nuanced: subtle and minerally.”

New Jersey and Pennsylvania
In most of the Mid-Atlantic region, September and October were more like summer than fall. In New Jersey, Dr. Gary Pavlis, professor and agricultural agent at Rutgers University, summed up the importance of warm, dry weather after a wet, cool summer when he said: “It was a long, hot October, just beautiful. It may have been the longest October ever! I’ve got no complaints; our yields were OK.” He noted that Chambourcin was harvested by Oct. 20, with Brix levels as high as 24.2°, and that the grapes were some of the best he has ever seen.

The weather in southeastern Pennsylvania was similar to that of New Jersey, with relatively cool temperatures and rain every two to four days from July through mid-August. Jerry Forest, owner and winemaker at Buckingham Valley Vineyards & Winery in Buckingham, Pa., told Wines & Vines, “Harvest was good. We had good sun, good rain, good everything.” Forest gave credit to his son, Kevin Forest, Buckingham’s vineyard manager, for “doing a fantastic job with spraying” during the wet weeks in August. Then, with temperatures reaches into the 90s for a week in September and warm to hot weather through October, the Forests let their grapes hang until they got higher sugars and reasonable acid levels.

Finger Lakes, N.Y.
When Wines & Vines contacted Dr. Tim Martinson, senior extension associate at Cornell University, on Sept. 1, he reported that the Finger Lakes had also had a cool summer, and harvest might be a week late and could continue “on and on.”

By mid-September, Scott Osborn, co-owner of Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan, N.Y., said the winery’s harvest was 10 days behind normal, but that on Sept. 14 the temperature had hit 80° F, which is quite warm for the Finger Lakes that late in the season.

Chris Stamp, president and winemaker at Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen, N.Y., noted that Lakewood’s harvest started Sept. 15, after a cold August and early September. “Our acids are way higher (than normal), and we’re waiting for them to come down,” he said. “Then last week it warmed up, and it could be real nice for mid- and late-season grapes.”

Warm, mostly sunny weather continued through October with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s—ideal for harvesting grapes, according to Martinson. In the final “Véraison to Harvest” update Nov. 6, he stated: “This year was in many respects the opposite of dry 2016, when a small crop, varying degrees of drought stress and a warm growing season led to high juice soluble solids and lower acids. Ample moisture, high bud fruitfulness and big berries (some varieties) led to high yields among the vinifera and some hybrid varieties.”

Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture extension educator with the Finger Lakes Grape Program, also noted that many growers had higher yields in the Finger Lakes this year. He attributed those higher yields in part to sunny weather during bud formation last year and also to higher than normal rainfall during the cell-division phase of berry growth. The challenge for growers and winemakers has been to find tanks and other containers to hold the abundance of fruit.

Lake Erie Grape Belt
The grapegrowing region south of Lake Erie, from New York to Pennsylvania and Ohio (a.k.a. the Lake Erie Grape Belt), had a much drier summer than the Finger Lakes or southeastern Pennsylvania. According to Bryan Hed, research technologist at the Lake Erie Grape Research and Extension Center in North East, Pa., May and June were mostly dry, and July was “dry as a bone.” The good news was that black rot and downy mildew were not a problem; powdery mildew was light and growers were able to keep on top of it.

Accompanying the dry weather during the summer were above-average temperatures until mid-August, when some rain arrived “just in the nick of time.” The result was larger than average crops both for juice grapes and wine grapes with above average quality. After harvest finished at the end of October, Hed noted that the Welch’s Grape Juice Company reported that “the 2017 harvest from the Tri-states/Ontario region delivered the largest Concord crop on record. Above-average harvest season temperatures enabled vineyards to achieve very favorable sugar levels, and overall quality was excellent.”


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