We humans are fans of predictability. We like knowing what the future brings. And so it follows that in the wine industry each year, usually around mid-August, journalists and wine drinkers alike begin asking their favorite wineries the age-old question: how’s the vintage looking?
There are many ways to describe the Finger Lakes and Seneca Lake American Viticultural Areas, but predictable is not one of those ways. So the question that tends to come around in late summer is understandably met with the look from a winemaker that says, “Oh boy, not this question again.”
Not because growers and winemakers don’t want to sate our curiosity, but because the truth is, one really never knows. At least, not until the fruit comes off the vine and the juice is in the fermenters. Until that moment, it’s mostly up to Mother Nature. A freak hail storm could destroy a crop. A sudden dry spell or torrential rains could impact fruit quality and quantity.
So with the goal of avoiding the armchair quarterbacking that seems to precede harvest each year, we held off asking the question until now and we went to some of the winemakers in the region to get their thoughts: what will the 2022 vintage bring in the bottle? Here’s what they shared with us…
Wes Andrew, assistant winemaker at Atwater Vineyards is feeling optimistic.
“Overall, the 2022 harvest was quite good. The summer drought brought a lot of color and intensity to the grapes, especially in the reds, but due to the smaller berries and less vigorous vine growth the crop was down substantially.
The stars, in my opinion will be the Bordeaux varieties, Pinot Noir, as well as Syrah. These reds will be very age-worthy. I do think many of the whites will shine too, in particular, our Chardonnay.
This vintage will go down as one of the stand outs of the past decade for us at Atwater Vineyards. It brought us juicy and vibrant rosés, balanced whites, and intense reds.”
From the vineyard side, Atwater’s Vineyard Manager Chris King:
Chris is a longtime veteran of the vineyards around Seneca Lake. He remarked, “The growing season started with a bit of bud damage from a cold snap last winter. Fortunately, our site [at Atwater] is exceptional for its ability to protect us from events like this. We did not end up with very much damage overall and were able to make some adjustments to our pruning to make up the difference.
As we approached the halfway point of the season we began to realize the impact of the drought on the vines. While the vines did not look terribly stressed, the clusters had not gained much size. When doing our yield estimates to prepare for harvest, we were seeing that the cluster weights were looking to be about 60% of average.
We ended the season with much smaller clusters and berries, which ultimately reduced our final yield significantly. While we would always love to have more fruit in vintages like these, we can’t complain about the quality. We are excited to see how these wines turn out!”
Kim Marconi, winemaker at Three Brothers Wineries & Estates sees strong potential:
The 2022 harvest was one of smaller quantities than originally anticipated, however the quality of the fruit was wonderful.
Overall, pick decisions were relatively simple to make, fruit came in when and mostly how we wanted to see it, and we had enough space in the cellar; all of this was a direct contrast to the large and more challenging vintage of the previous year.
As of right now the aromatic whites are shining in the cellar and I am specifically looking forward to releasing our Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling series from this year!
Edward Miller, winemaker at Glenora Wine Cellars underscored the challenges of 2022 but also draws our attention to the potential and opportunities:
“2022 was a strange beast of a harvest with plenty of bright spots and shadows.
First, we had a very large crop last year which on its own would produce a smaller crop this year. Second, we had a warm(ish) and wet December in 2021 followed by a very cold January. The vines had not acclimated fully for the winter in December so the cold spell in January left us with significant bud damage and, I believe, some vascular damage in the woody parts of the vine. Third, we had a hot, dry summer which reduced both canopy and berry size, and stressed the injured vines, leading to quite a bit of vine collapse over the course of the season.
Finally, the rains came too late and too heavily in September, leading to rot issues in some varieties. This not only led to some further crop reduction, but also forced my hand in some cases to pick before I would have liked. Ripening was slow this year, even with all the sun this summer, due to water stress and small canopy size.
But enough doom and gloom. With October the sun and dryer weather returned, allowing those varieties that survived September to ripen fully and pretty cleanly. The word of the vintage should be ‘concentration’, not only applying to winemakers maniacally watching vineyards, weather, and fermentations, but also to the wines themselves. The reds are going to be blockbuster wines, dark, tannic, and expressive. I also have some beautifully tropical white wines stabilizing in the cellar. Overall, and as expected, the acidity is somewhat lower this year as compared to last, but pH’s also stayed low, so the wines remain bright and vibrant.
The silver lining of the small crop was that it allowed time for some special projects and experiments in the cellar that usually get swept away in the Riesling river. I am quite excited about a Pet-Nat of Seyval blanc we made for the first time this year, a barrel fermented Sauvignon blanc, and a barrel fermented Cab franc, where we actually popped the heads off a few barrels and used them as small upright fermenters. After pressing those barrels separately, we put the heads back on and returned the new wine into them to continue maturing in the same vessel.
I am also excited to try other winemakers’ wines from 2022 in the coming year, as I am sure there will be some gems and some interesting experiments happening at other wineries as well. Don’t leave a winemaker idle, or we come up with wild ideas!”
Peter Becraft, winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Company shared his thoughts on the whirlwind that was 2022:
“It seemed the 2022 harvest was over before it began. We began our harvest with Pinot Noir on the 21st of September and ended with our Riesling on the 14th of October. The quality was very high albeit yields were on the low side.
I was having a little PTSD from the ‘21 vintage at the beginning of September which was quite wet. Luckily the moisture didn’t affect the quality of the fruit and there were no real widespread rot issues.
The standouts from ‘22 will be the reds. They remind me of the extracted reds from ‘20 with the lower alcohols and energy of the ‘19 reds. The Pinot Noir is going to be a stunner. Unfortunately we couldn’t make that much of it.”
Craig Hosbach, winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards adds:
“The 2022 growing season started with a low primary bud count on a number of varieties due to winter damage. Even though the crop was small we ended up with super concentrated grapes as a result of a warm dry summer. Mother Nature decided that we couldn’t have a perfect vintage so we did face some opposition as harvest approached.
At one point it felt like a day didn’t go by without some kind of rain event and this created challenges with fruit breakdown. We managed to mitigate these concerns by harvesting a few varieties earlier than normal but thanks to the warm dry summer, they had already achieved ripeness.
I’d describe the 2022 vintage as light in yield but high in quality. The red grapes are super concentrated and the whites were able to fully ripen while maintaining their acidity. I believe this vintage will be one of the most well rounded ones in the last decade.”
As one can see, the 2022 vintage presented some challenges, but winemakers on Seneca Lake are used to unpredictability, they find a way to thrive amidst the uncertainty, they enjoy the creativity and problem-solving that are at the heart of the daily work, and that is why they’re making wine here.