Taking Risks in the Vineyard: A Frank View on Harvest Time
Greetings from Shaw Vineyard! This is our second and final newsletter of 2015 (no clogging in-boxes here).
Harvest time reminds me of what differentiates Shaw Vineyard and how it does things. Some say I'm a bit reckless when it comes to my preference for late harvesting and more hang time.
In a cool climate like the Finger Lakes, the contrast between a good wine and a great wine can be entirely subtle. I'm not sure how often I find greatness, but I'm convinced to get there you have to take risks. All true reserve wines begin in the vineyard.
What do I mean? While you are reading this, Shaw Vineyard's Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grapes remain on the vines, and if all goes well it will be 2-3 weeks more before I harvest.
In a typical growing year, I leave my grapes in the vineyard 1-3 weeks longer than nearly all other local wineries. During one memorable vintage, I actually picked in early November!
I'm a huge proponent of extended hang time (which has almost nothing to do with popular ideas about brix levels) to concentrate flavor, enhance phenolics, and soften tannins. By doing this, I'm subjecting the grapes to potential breakdown and a healthy dose of botrytis (which can be a good thing). Technically speaking, I am risking an ideal harvest window.
Hand harvesting and field sorting is a must at Shaw, and we eschew table sorting because we drop grapes throughout growing season to keep our yields low and push the vine's energy into the remaining clusters. I embrace interesting flaws, which can serve to enhance complexity, just as readily as perfectly clean grapes.
Some of the published science supports what I do, some of it hasn't gotten there yet, but I'm taking nearly 35-years of growing experience into account. At Shaw we push the envelope at times, but I think it results in consistent quality, even in otherwise tough vintages.
We hope to see you back at the winery this fall. We are open all of October and most of November. Stop on in and say hello! I'm always happy to talk about my winemaking philosophy with anyone who is interested.