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December 7, 2012 | 2:35 PM

Wineries on Long Island’s East End have completed the 2012 harvest, and their wines are now safely in tanks and barrels, with the initial post-harvest phases of winemaking complete. Merliance has compiled an overview of the harvest for merlot and other Bordeaux varietals commonly used in the red blends produced here, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot. The data was sourced from Merliance members, and validated by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Viticulture Program. Based on the quality of the fruit at harvest and early tank and barrel samples, the 2012 vintage promises rich, complex and powerful varietal merlot wines and beautiful, landmark merlot-based blends.

The Growing Season

A mild winter gave way to an early spring, with the earliest budbreak Long Island has ever seen—roughly two weeks ahead of schedule. Although a late frost occurred in some sites, spring’s warm temperatures sped flowering and fruiting, and veraison also occurred well ahead of its normal timetable for the East End. Summer’s ample sunshine and heat encouraged fruit development and ripening, as its humidity made way, in some instances, for unwelcome flora in denser clusters. In September, rain moved in and temperatures cooled. At the end of October, Hurricane Sandy capped a relatively long, near-perfect growing season. All Merliance-member vineyards had completed harvest before the storm, and none suffered extensive damage.

The Harvest

All Merliance members harvest their fruit by hand. For merlot, harvest spanned from October 15 to October 22. Of the Bordeaux varietals (see list above), it was the earliest to harvest for most producers. Tons per acre ranged from 1.3 to 1.9 for merlot. Due to losses from birds and other vineyard pests and the common process of thinning the crop for highest-quality fruit, the yield was just below average for most producers. But by all accounts, quality was very high. Brix at time of harvest ranged from 21 to 23.2, with pH (acidity) from 3.58 to 3.71, revealing a nice, natural balance of sugar to acid.

Interestingly, according to Cornell viticulturist Alice Wise, speaking about all varietals on Long Island:

“2012 was as warm as the famously hot season 2010, both more than 3,500 GDD (Growing Degree Days, a measure of how warm a growing season was) in Riverhead. In 2010, virtually all blocks were harvested with high Brix (22-24) and low acids (3-7 g/l). In 2012, Brix were moderate to high, 20-22 in most blocks, while acids were moderate to low. Winemakers have been impressed with the nuanced flavors of fruit this season and expect wines with finesse and elegance rather than power.”

Winemakers’ Early Observations

“Tank and barrel samples are showing early signs of a high-quality vintage,” says Gilles Martin, Merliance technical director and consulting winemaker for McCall Wines and Sherwood House Vineyards. “We’re seeing good balance between sugar and acidity, good color, complex flavors and adequate tannins.”

Russ McCall, Merliance president and proprietor of McCall Wines, adds:

We have great hopes for the new (2012) wines. The weather was kind to us early, so the crop got a head start. Beautiful summer weather with a bit too much humidity, and a mostly warm fall allowed most varietals to ripen fully. The only detraction was excess rainfall pushing up the berry size. Most of our reds haven’t finished ML (malo-lactic fermentation) so they are still difficult to assess.”

Roman Roth, executive vice president of Merliance, and winemaker and technical director for Wölffer Estate Vineyard, says:

“2012 is one of the great vintages for Wölffer Estate and Long Island in general. After a growing season with abundant sunshine and heat, the fruit ripening was on average 2.5 weeks ahead of normal. This translated into wonderful concentrated, dark, rich red wines—especially Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which are showing fantastic results.”

John Leo, winemaker at Clovis Point said:

"This was definitely a ‘Vintner’s Select’ year for us—that’s our estate-level distinction, made in the best vintages. We had time to let the fruit hang to optimum ripeness and concentration. The strength of our terroir will no doubt shine through in all the wines of the region in the 2012 vintage.”

Les Howard, winemaker at Raphael said:

“We are eager to see the wines of 2012 come to fruition, this is the kind of year that makes winemaking most fun and creative.”

Russell Hearn of T’Jara Vineyards said:

“T’Jara wines are always blends of at least five red grapes—always based on merlot. This vintage will give us lots of great reds to play with, all of impeccable quality and with great balance of fruit and acid.” Russell adds: “We’re committed to screw-cap closures for all T’Jara wines, and believe that the combination of the cap and a permeable liner in the capsule will age the wine in the bottle without the risk of cork variability. We’re already seeing great results in our 2007s and 2010s—two other exceptional vintages—and we’re eager to see the potential of what promises to be a superior 2012 vintage, aged in screw-cap closures.”

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