VINTAGE FORECAST

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - GLOBE STYLE - BEPPI CROSARIOL wine@globe­and­mail.com @Bep­pi_Crosar­iol

While bad sum­mer weather is de­lay­ing har­vests, BEPPI CROSARIOL notes wet con­di­tions ben­e­fit cer­tain wines

The chal­lenges – and po­ten­tial re­wards – of a cool, wet sum­mer

Rare is the wine­maker will­ing to pre­dict the qual­ity of a vintage be­fore har­vest is over and the juice is safely bub­bling in tanks. Re­straint in such a mat­ter is wise. In wine there is truth, in grapes only hope and spec­u­la­tion.

But there’s one thing you can say for cer­tain about the 2017 grow­ing sea­son in On­tario. It’s been ex­as­per­at­ing. Rain across the south­ern perime­ter was so bad at times that many vine­yards mor­phed into lakes. That stand­ing wa­ter not only drenched roots but also made it im­pos­si­ble to get trac­tors in to help with prun­ing and spray­ing.

“We got lam­basted in June,” said Keith Ty­ers, wine­maker at Clos­son Chase in Prince Ed­ward County in East­ern On­tario, adding that it was prob­a­bly the wettest sea­son he’s ex­pe­ri­enced in 14 years of grow­ing.

The most ob­vi­ous im­pact of those grey skies has been to de­lay vine devel­op­ment to the point where some late-picked va­ri­eties, such as caber­net sauvi­gnon, might fall well short of the ripeness needed for lush, mouth­fill­ing reds. Har­vest, which nor­mally would be chug­ging along around this time in Ni­a­gara for such early-picked still wines as chardon­nay and pinot noir could be roughly three weeks late in many vine­yards.

For wine­mak­ers, though, the rains mainly have meant more gru­elling work than usual. Dis­ease pres­sure that at­tends high hu­mid­ity, no­tably in the form of downy mildew, forced work­ers to pass through the vines to pluck over­grown leaves with a vengeance in or­der to ven­ti­late grape bunches and ex­pose them to the sun.

Ty­ers said this is the first year he’s had to strip leaves from the western sides of vine rows. That’s the side ex­posed to the more in­tense heat of af­ter­noon sun and which gen­er­ally ben­e­fits from shade to pro­tect berries from sun­burn. “There’s been a lot of fo­liage,” he said. “It’s like hav­ing to cut the grass every three or four days.”

And while the weather did im­prove in much of south­ern On­tario dur­ing Au­gust, the clouds that per­sisted for much of spring and sum­mer could have their own sil­ver lin­ing, at least for some pro­duc­ers. Paul Pen­der, di­rec­tor of viti­cul­ture and wine­mak­ing at Tawse Win­ery in Vineland, told me the other week that al­though con­di­tions were chal­leng­ing – be­cause “it was rain­ing every sec­ond day” – the sea­son re­minded him of an­other moist, “off” year. He said 2013 yielded many stel­lar wines, in par­tic­u­lar pinot noirs and chardon­nays. I’d have to agree, a per­spec­tive un­der­scored by the su­perb Tawse chardon­nay be­low as well as an­other 2013 of­fer­ing, the Quarry Road chardon­nay, which won a plat­inum medal at the 2017 Na­tional Wine Awards of Canada and also is avail­able at Tawsewin­ery.ca (for $36.95).

It might seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but wet, over­cast con­di­tions can ben­e­fit ear­lyripen­ing va­ri­eties. Slower vine devel­op­ment and longer “hang time” for grapes can re­sult in more com­plete phe­no­lic, or bi­o­log­i­cal, ripeness and greater flavour com­plex­ity. By con­trast, a hot sum­mer gooses sugar up too quickly and grapes of­ten must be har­vested un­de­sir­ably early sim­ply to keep them from turn­ing to into raisins.

“It’s the kind of vintage I love for chard and pinot,” Pen­der said, stress­ing the word “love.” As he likes to ob­serve about the French re­gion syn­ony­mous with those two grapes: “The Bur­gundies you love are the ones are those that come from those off vin­tages.”

Pinot and chardon­nay aside, whether 2017 man­ages to squeeze out many great caber­net sauvi­gnons and mer­lots is sim­ply too early to tell. Even a wine critic wouldn’t be so fool­ish as to make that pre­dic­tion.

In the mean­time, this seems like a good mo­ment to savour one or more of the older vin­tages be­low.

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