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Good September Weather Helps Finger Lakes Grape Harvest

by Linda Jones McKee
November 14, 2019

“It all comes down to September,” is a maxim often stated by Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture specialist with the Finger Lakes Grape Program at the Cornell Cooperative Extension and, once again, those words summed up what happened with the 2019 grape harvest in the Finger Lakes.

“Overall, harvest has gone quite well,” Walter-Peterson told Wine Business Monthly. The growing season started out wet and cold, with bloom being as much as two weeks late on some varieties. Veraison and harvest were later than usual as well. “We normally pick Chardonnay and Pinot for sparkling wines the week after Labor Day,” he said. “This year harvest started a week late.”

September, however, had plentiful sunshine, and only about half of the rainfall that the region usually gets in that month. “It was definitely drier, with not nearly the humidity. In 2018 there were so many days when the canopies would stay wet from the humidity,” Walter-Peterson stated. While there was some rot this year, it was primarily Botrytis, not sour rot, and there were hardly any fruit flies. When asked about yields, he responded, “It’s my impression that yields are all over the board. Several growers are average to below, other vineyards are loaded for bear.”

Finger Lakes grape prices, 2019

The complete list of prices for 61 grape varieties grown in the Finger Lakes region for the 2019 harvest is available at New York wineries that purchase more than five tons of any grape variety are required to provide the prices they will pay for grapes to the NY Department of Agriculture and Markets. Some of the prices reported are those wineries pay for their own grapes, while others are contracted prices between growers and wineries. The Finger Lakes Grape Program requests those price lists from wineries or processors and then compiles the data from those willing to share into a single listing.

Most prices in the Finger Lakes this year did not change significantly from those in 2018. A total of 47 varieties had an average price change of 0.5% or less compared with 2018. According to Walter-Peterson, there were more flat numbers, at least in part, because of the methodology that was used in compiling the data for this year. In order to increase the accuracy of price changes, the average prices were adjusted to include only those processors who supplied prices in both 2018 and 2019. In addition, the range of price categories was edited and some “premium” prices were not listed, as some processors have sliding price scales that are based on Brix level.

For the wine grapes included in the price survey, prices went up on eight varieties compared to last year’s rise for 14 and to the unusual increase for 24 varieties in 2017. Three vinifera varieties rose in price in comparison with 2018 when none of the 17 viniferas increased; 12 were flat and two dropped in price. Lemberger, which went up by 4.8%, had the greatest rise in price not only for vinifera grapes but also for the entire list of 59 wine grapes. Pinot Noir rose in price by 1.6%, after dropping by 2% last year, and Zweigelt, with only two wineries reporting, increased by 2.9%.

Riesling, with 12 wineries reporting prices, dropped by 2.2% after closing down by a small amount in 2018. Viognier had the largest price drop, -5.6%, but that number was based on only one winery reporting their prices. Cabernet Franc also had 12 wineries reporting, and this year’s price showed no increase for the variety after falling by more than 2% in 2018. Other vinifera grapes showing flat prices included Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Merlot.

Of the 34 hybrid varieties listed, three rose in price, while 28 were flat and three dropped by more than 0.5% from last year. For the third year, Baco Noir increased in price, this year from $621 to $629, up by 1.3%. Geneva Red (GR7) rose by 2% after increasing by 2.9% in 2018, and Marquette, with two wineries reporting, went up by 3.2%. Chambourcin dropped in price for the third year in a row, from $800 to $775, a decrease of -3.1%, while Vidal went down by -0.8% and Golden Muscat by -1%.

Three of the eight native American varieties had more than four wineries reporting on their prices. Concord, with eight wineries posting their prices, went up by 2.7% this year to $304 after increasing by 2% in 2018, and Niagara, with ten wineries, also rose two years in a row, going up 3% in 2018 and 1.7% in 2019 (to $355). Like Niagara, Catawba had ten wineries reporting, but after rising 2% last year, was flat this year, as were four other varieties. Diamond, with two wineries reporting, dropped by -1.1%. Two juice varieties, Himrod and Lakemont, also were flat in price for 2019.

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