How Sweet It Is

The East End can file 2013 as one of the better vintages. 2013_channingharvest_lmorris-255

These days a trend can develop with two examples, but we’ve got one going on here on the East End of Long Island that can’t be denied. Every three years for the past nine, our wineries have had an outstanding growing season. So make room in your cellar for the 2013s. A long, dry autumn has produced a crop that has winemakers smiling and vineyard managers marveling while trying not to count their bottles before they’re filled.

“It was wonderful,” says Sal Diliberto, whose family house is right in the middle of the vineyard that bears his name on Manor Lane in Jamesport. “The skin was in perfect condition, the color is great, and the flavors are there, even now.” In addition to the quality of the fruit, his yield was high. “I usually make 700 to 800 cases. This year it looks more like 1,400. I’m going to have to get my hands on more barrels.”

The main reason for the bounty, all agree, is the lack of rain in September and October when the fruit is at its most vulnerable, subject to being knocked off by rainstorms or hail before it’s ripe or soaked to death with mildew-causing humidity.

“We went 57 days without rain,” says Ron Goerler Jr., owner and vineyard manager at Jamesport Vineyards down the road from Diliberto in Jamesport, “which is really unheard of on the North Fork of Long Island in September and October.” Really unheard of, says Kip Bedell, founder of Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. He’s been harvesting grapes out here since 1981 and has never seen anything like it. But ever cautious, he’s waiting until all the wines finish fermentation before declaring it the best ever, a title he’s reserving for the 2010 vintage. “I may be splitting hairs here,” he says. “But, I don’t know; 2013 could end up being a little bit better, or not quite as good. We’ll see when the structure of the wine comes together, and the mouthfeel.”

Ros Baiz, co-winemaker and co-vineyard manager at the Old Field Vineyards with her daughter, Perry Bliss, is cautious, too, but in her 17 years caring for her family’s vines, she’s prepared to say 2013 might be just a bit better. “It was dry, but not hot,” she says. “This is in my mind because it’s been a slower ascent and probably better from a development standpoint; there were no spikes of heat.”

For many, the high quality is going hand-in-hand with high quantity. But in a demonstration of the microclimates on our spits of land, some vineyards were affected by rains earlier in the season, which cut their yield. Juan Micieli-Martinez at Martha Clara in Riverhead says he’s down nearly 100 tons at harvest but is amazed by the fruit. “I’ll take quality over quantity,” he says.

Those with a surfeit are using the opportunity to try new things. Although he already had a late-harvest dessert wine in the tank at mid-November, Goerler still had a ton and a half of riesling on the vine, just getting riper and riper. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it,” he says. “But it’s there.”

And that’s another benefit of a dry harvest season, the chance to take things slow and pick when you like: no hurrying to get the fruit in before a storm or picking because the weather forecast says all you’re going to get from now on is cold, cold, cold.

Bedell also says this is one of the few years he’s seeing consistency in quality with the whites and reds. “Usually something happens early in the season that affects the whites, or later, and the reds suffer. But that didn’t happen this year.” What did happen is the kind of vintage that puts a smile on your face when it’s time for blending before the wine is bottled, he adds. “They make themselves,” he says. “It’s kinda neat.”