How are the Wineries Handling All the Rain?

Jul 13, 2017

I realize I probably don’t have to tell anyone, but the Finger Lakes region has seen an unusual amount of rain this spring. Flash floods have caused damage to property in a matter of minutes and we’ve even seen a drop in visitation over previous years. The rain has been quite a “damper” and it seems to be continuing throughout the early summer weeks. I set out to ask our wineries what kind of affect all this precipitation is having on the vines.

I also spoke with Dave Peterson, President and Co-Owner of Swedish Hill, Goose Watch & Penguin Bay Wineries. Here’s what Dave wrote on the topic:

“While the weather has admittedly been wetter than most all of us would like, there is somewhat of a silver lining in it.  With the excessively dry conditions in 2016, water tables needed to be recharged.  Mother Nature seems to have now accomplished that!  With the very dry conditions in 2016, newly planted vines struggled to get established and many of us resorted to hand watering just to keep them alive.  This year, those vines that barely survived last year are thriving and look green and lush.  The new vines that we have planted this year are off to a great start, and have more than twice as much growth as last year’s new vines at the same stage.  The rainy days, however, have made it harder for our vineyard team to keep up with the work load, and at times we have worked longer days on the sunny days to keep up.  Weeds love the rain at least as much as the vines, so we are running our tillage tools every chance we get.  Fortunately, technology has improved many of these tools to make it quicker and more efficient than in the old days.

Quality of the grapes will mostly be determined by the weather mid-summer through the fall, so the spring and early summer rains really are not of major concern as to any negative effects on the wine quality.  But, we are all hoping things do start to dry out a bit!”

I then interviewed Dave Pittard, co-owner of Buttonwood Grove Winery. Dave shared very similar sentiments. In addition, he recounted that last year, the winery planted a half acre of merlot and three quarters of an acre of chardonnay. The new vines love the excess rain, but any grass seed they have planted throughout the vineyard has been washed out. Pittard says “This was a great year to plant new vines!”

He too shared that it is too soon to tell if the rain levels will affect this year’s crop. The biggest worry is the threat of mold and mildew. This calls for extra scouting. The vineyard team is looking more often than ever before at the crop to make sure that everything is under control. They’ve not needed to use additional preventative sprays, but they’re certainly keeping a close eye on the crop.

On Saturdays, from 1:30 to 4:30pm, Buttonwood Grove Winery offers free live music and encourages people to bask in the sun on the deck while enjoying a glass.  Saturday, July first brought a torrential downpour in the middle of their concert. This caused extreme runoff and all the property’s drainage ditches overflowed. The Buttonwood team then spent days restoring the grounds after the heavy rain damage. (but you would never guess it, the entire property is supremely stunning!)

My last conversation was with Mark Renodin, co-owner of Six Mile Creek Vineyards in Ithaca as he stopped into the office to pick up more CLWT brochures. We had a brief discussion about their vineyard as well. Per Mark, they have not yet made any adjustments to their regularly scheduled farming procedures. It has actually been a welcome flood of showers after last summer’s severe drought. The ground is still absorbing everything it can. Last year, the SMC team did not de-leaf the vines because they were so thin on the canopy due to lack of water. “This rain is exactly what we needed” exclaimed Renodin.

In Ithaca, they’ve not seen any negative effects on the vines themselves. The water table needed to be replenished. Mark is hoping to see the rain taper off come august when veraison sets in. We don’t want to be pessimistic, but if, by chance, the rain doesn’t stop, the quality of the fruit could diminish, meaning the berries will plump up with too much water and not enough sugar. More rain may mean that the wineries would be forced to spray more fungicide as well.

In 2016, Six Mile Creek planted 800 Marquette vines, a “grandson” of pinot noir, and a light-to-medium bodied dry red that is common in colder climates. The grape was developed by University of Minnesota to have a cold tolerance of -37 Fahrenheit. Last year, the new plants didn’t grow much at all, but now they’re looking great, he says!

The rain has been wonderful in the vineyards, but nearly everyone suspects it has had an adverse effect on visitation, negatively affecting sales. Given the fact that the vineyardists are hoping the rain tapers off about now, we’re hoping so from a marketing and management standpoint as well. Here’s to outdoor live music in the vineyards with sunny skies to come!