By Chris Rowley
With winter fading into memory, and spring just arrived, the winemakers around the Shawangunk Ridge are moving into the next round of tasks and operations in their yearly schedule.
At Whitecliff Vineyards, Michael Migliore has been out in the vineyard checking for winter damage.
"It was an average winter for bud damage. We got down to five degrees below zero on one night in January, and that's low enough to do substantial damage to our most delicate varietal, the Merlot. In fact, Merlot is marginal here. So, we're not pruning off nearly as many buds on the Merlot as we would without that damage."
Asked about the Pinot Noir, Migliore said, "There was some damage, so it won't be a great year in terms of yield, but I think we will get a crop."
But now, in early spring the major task is pruning. "We've hired another person to prune and we've spent much of the last couple of weeks pruning. However, this has been one of the wettest springs in memory, so that has kept us from taking any equipment into the vineyard. If you look at my friends the fruit-growers, you'll see big ruts in the orchards, because at this time of the year they have to get out there and spray oil treatment against red mites. But with the ground so wet, you don't want to run a tractor in there unless you absolutely have to. You get ruts and you compact the soil and that harms the roots' ability to absorb water and nutrients."
This situation has prevented jobs like early weed control from being completed, according to Migliore.
At Brimstone Hill Vineyards, also on the east side of the mountain, Richard Eldridge is thinking of planting new vines this spring.
"Some more Noiret and Cabernet Franc, to begin with," he says.
Noiret is a hybrid grape developed by Cornell University researchers at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, and was released in the summer of 2006. Noiret is a cross of earlier hybrids that combined the native Vitis Labrusca varieties and the Vitis Vinifera, which are a class of European wine grapes, like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. The native varieties are much more cold-hardy than the European varietals.
"We've had considerable success with the Noiret," said Eldridge. However, he notes that 2009 was a poor year because of the large amount of rain last summer.
"Cabernet Franc will be our only red wine for 2009," he adds. "But, fortunately, there is still a good supply of the 2008."
Over on the other side of the Mountain, at Bashakill Vineyards (the new winery on the block), vintner Paul Denino, says, "For me this wasn't that cold a winter. We have a good micro-climate here right by the Basha Kill, which takes the edge off the really cold nights. Plus, I grow varieties on the hardier side of things."
For Denino that means, above all, Cayuga White.
"I love the Cayuga. It's so disease-resistant, and I grow everything on the site organically, so that's very important for me."
At 900 cases output expected this year, Denino is at an earlier stage in the development of his winery than the Shawangunk Wine Trail wineries on the east side of the mountain. But, spring time still means pruning.
"There's a lot of work to do right now," Denino says. "You have to enjoy the work in this business, because there's a lot of it, and you don't make enormous profits. After five years, I'm getting my own grapes now, because it takes that long for the vines to start producing. So I can have my own Estate Wines. They will be organic, of course. I made a Gewurtztraminer this year, to go with the Cayuga. I grow some Cayuga, and I buy more, because I sell everything I make. But, even with the Cayuga I buy, I keep the sulfites as low as possible. So I depend on sterile filtration, and that means I can avoid fining, and so everything also stays vegan."
Bashakill Vineyards has added a brick oven, and will be featuring superb pizza on some weekends during the season.
Back at Whitecliff, there is also a lot of work in the cellar still. "We've been bottling like crazy," said Michael Migliore. "I just got half a truckload of glass from Texas. So we'll be bottling our Riesling and Traminette, plus a Chardonnay — what is called 'Naked Chardonnay' out west. No oak, just stainless steel."
The next big worry for everyone growing fruit in the Hudson Valley is spring frost.
"We're about 14 days ahead of the usual seasonal schedule," said Migliore. "And we can get a frost right up to the first week of May, so that's our major worry right now. If the buds push out, because it gets too warm in early April, then a frost can damage or kill them. So, we want cool weather to keep things from opening up too soon. Last year, for instance, we had a frost in May, so we're always mindful of the danger of that at this season."
The Shawangunk Wine Trail kicks off the season with Pasta Primo Vino on April 17 and 18.
"That's a real bargain of an event," says Yancey Migliore." Very reasonably priced, and a great way to get out in the spring and see the wineries, taste the new wines, and have a great day in the country."
Whitecliff has its own special event in May to look forward to.
"That's Fresh Fish in the Vineyard," says Yancey Migliore. "That means trout caught by the winemaker up in the Finger Lakes, and brought down immediately to the winery to be cooked and served with our white wines."
Look for that event on the weekend of May 5 and 6, Migliore says. You can contact Whitecliff at (845) 255-4613; Brimstone can be reached at (845) 744-2231; and Basha Kill at (845) 888-5858.
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