The North Fork of Long Island, New York is home to some 30 wineries, who, together, manage around 3,000 acres of vineyards. The climate is maritime in the summer (weather predominately comes from the Gulf) and continental in the winter (when the weather predominantly comes from Canada). This results in a moderate summer, with a long growing season but a cold winter, which is fortunately moderated by the presence of water on three sides of the Fork.
Mark and I were there yesterday to attend Lenn Thompson's Wine Bar, at Roanoke Winery where we tasted wines by Lieb, Roanoke, Wolffer Estates, Grapes of Roth as well as Lenns very own creations from Sonis Cellar (reviews on their way).
On our way out there we stopped by how wineries combat frost). This year alone, Paumanok lost over 80% of their Chardonnay crop to frost. Chardonnay is particularly sensitive to this as it buds early. Of their 15 acres of Chardonnay they harvested 5 tonnes, instead of the 15 that they would have expected. Although they lost the crop, the vine did have some secondary and tertiary buds break later in the year - this doesn't result in good grapes for wine, but does keep the vine alive.
By the time summer rolls around it begins to get really hot, and although the Ocean influence results in high humidity, it also keeps the temperatures slightly lower than what the rest of Southern New York sees. Here's where Charles's talk got really interesting, as he told us about the tactics specific to Long Island that winemakers use to optimize the sugar production of the grapes during the growing season.
First, they defoliate the bottom 6-8 inches of the vine, which is where the grape clusters hang. This promotes good airflow and helps avoid mildew, rot and other problems that the humidity might create. Having just plucked a bunch of leaves off the vine, the next task is to ensure that there are enough leaves left to be able to produce enough sugar to ripen the clusters. 12 mature leaves are required per grape cluster, and as the vines tend to have around 30 leaves after the defoliation, this would allow the vine to ripen 2.5 clusters of grapes per branch. So, someone then walks every row and cuts off the extra clusters until there are only 2 clusters per branch maximum.
Sauvignon Blanc Vines showing the defoliated 6″ at the base of each branch
At this point every vine has a maximum of 2 grape clusters hanging from it, with at least 24 leaves per branch, and thanks to the defoliation the grapes can survive the humidity and are also exposed to the sun which further allows them to ripen. Paumanok's science behind the farming, and the meticulous attention to fine tuning the crop were clear from Charles's explanations. He is a man obsessed with the production of the fruit. Someone who believes that winemaking can not make up for poor fruit, and that the best it can hope to do is to not ruin, what is otherwise, a perfectly ripe clean grape.
Partway whole berrry fermentation, showing the ripe clean fruit
Here are the reviews of the wines I tried.