EAST END OF LONG ISLAND, NY — December 18, 2013 — Vintners on Long Island celebrated the 40th anniversary of the region in 2013, and were rewarded with a harvest that is being hailed as the very best on record. Merliance has compiled data about this year’s grand harvest specifically as it relates to merlot and the Bordeaux varietals commonly used in the red blends produced here: cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Based on the quality of the fruit at harvest and early tank and barrel samples, Merliance winemakers report that the epic 2013 vintage promises merlot wines of rich, ripe fruit character, elegant structure and well-balanced, graceful power.
The Growing Season
A year of extremes, 2013 did not start out looking like a landmark vintage. Persistent wet and overcast conditions prevailed throughout the spring. In fact, May and June 2013 were among the wettest on record. As budbreak approached, temperatures across the region were uncharacteristically cool. This combination of gloomy conditions led to erratic fruit set in merlot across many vineyard sites and lower average cluster weights than the long-term average.
But July delivered a heatwave that began to accelerate development in the vineyards. “August was slightly cooler than normal but brought us day after day of brilliant sunshine, setting the stage for what turned out to become a fantastic vintage. I believe that no great vintage is possible on Long Island without a great August,” said Richard Pisacano, vineyard manager at Wölffer Estate Vineyard.
Ripening progressed rapidly in September, as fall brought clear skies. With only 0.3 inches the entire month, October 2013 was the driest since 1963 and the third driest ever recorded. “The last time Long Island saw this little rain in October, the region’s first vines weren’t even in the ground at Hargrave Vineyard. In fact, the first planting was 10 years away,” explained Russell Hearn, proprietor and winemaker at T’Jara Vineyards, and technical director at Lieb Cellars.
Dry conditions prevailed through November, enabling winemakers and vineyard workers to harvest in peak season, in terms of both fruit quality and weather conditions. Researchers Alice Wise and Libby Tarleton of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Viticulture Program characterized the 2013 vintage as “one that vineyard managers live for.”
Merliance members provided the following technical data from their respective vineyard sites.* It was aggregated (not averaged) as shown below and validated by Ms. Wise.
As is common practice in our relatively compact region, all Merliance members harvest their fruit by hand. For merlot, picking began on October 6 and resumed mid-month. Yield (as measured in tons per acre) ranged from 2 to 3.5—an improvement over 2012 tonnage. By all accounts, the quality of the fruit was very high, due to moderate yields and conducive weather conditions throughout the second half of the growing season. Brix, as measured at time of harvest, ranged from 22.5 to 25, with pH (acidity) of 3.50 to 3.8, creating an ideal balance of sugar to acid. The other Bordeaux varietals yielded similar results:
|Harvest dates||Yield (tons/acre)||Brix||pH|
|Merlot||Oct. 6; Oct. 15-25||2-3.5||22.5-25||3.5-3.8|
|Cabernet Franc||Oct. 21; Oct. 28-29||2-3.8||23-24.7||3.6-3.83|
|Cabernet Sauvignon||Oct. 29-31||1.71-2.33||22.5-23.8||3.39-3.61|
|Petit Verdot||Oct. 29-Nov. 4||1.86-2.2||25.3-26.7||3.27-3.53|
*Harvest data presented is a range from the lowest to highest figures in each category, as submitted by Merliance members. Individual winery data is proprietary.
For a year-to-year comparison, please see the Merliance harvest report from 2012, available online here.
With fermentation well under way, the red wines of 2013 will not be commercially available for at least three years. But it seems they will be well worth the wait. Here are selected observations by Merliance members and friends:
“While we were certainly busy, the pace [of harvest] was a bit more relaxed than previous years and the delicious fruit made it really fun,” said Cornell’s Ms. Wise. “When things come together like that, it reinforces why we all are in this business.”
“The year was a marvel in its long, dry, cool fall that allowed for excellent ripeness to develop,” reported John Leo, winemaker for Clovis Point. “We could not ask for much more in the way of natural selection.”
Raphael’s winemaker and Merliance vice president, Anthony Nappa, concurred: “The growing season started late and cool, but the ripening season (September through October) was perfect—warm days, cool nights and dry. We had 50 days without any rain, which eliminated the disease pressure and allowed us harvest at our leisure and at each grape variety's peak of ripeness. The wines look great already so this will be a great vintage on Long Island!”
“Old vines and dry-farmed vineyards like Sherwood excelled in the 2013 weather conditions, making it one of the best vintages of all!” said Bill Ackermann, vineyard manager at Sherwood House Vineyards.
Russell Hearn confirmed: “The quality of fruit harvested this vintage is extremely high, which shows the importance of a great ending to the season versus a poor start to the growing season. Across the board, all of T’Jara’s red grape varieties have exceptional flavor and depth.”
“We couldn’t be happier with everything that was harvested in 2013,” said Ami Davey, production director at Lieb Cellars. “Our merlot especially has great dimension.”
“An epic vintage like this makes a winemaker even more inspired and enthusiastic,” said Roman Roth, Merliance president and winemaker and partner at Wölffer Estate Vineyard. “The timing of the weather resulted in perfectly healthy and completely ripe and mature fruit. The flavor and sugar accumulation was at amazing levels across the board. However, the special part is the complete balance of a nice pH, acidity, spectacular color and concentrated fruit flavors. 2013 may very well be the greatest vintage ever on Long Island.”
Merliance is an alliance of Long Island producers of quality merlot and merlot-based blends. Founded in 2005, Merliance joins premium wine estates committed to developing quality standards in the production of classically styled merlot and red blends in which merlot is the dominant component. We seek recognition for merlot as the premier grape of Long Island, whether as a single varietal or in blends, and for Long Island as the leading appellation for these wines on the East Coast. We believe that, in the tradition of other great wine regions, emphasizing our excellence in one varietal does not diminish other wines from Long Island, but will help to gain attention for all varietals grown here. To learn more about Merliance and our eponymous cooperative wine, visit www.longislandmerlot.com.