Finger Lakes Wines and Grapes: What sustainable viticulture means
We started out with a warm spell in April and early May that caused the grapevine buds to break (open up) the first week of May. This is more typical or normal than what we saw in 2018-2020. In those three years, we were anywhere from one to two weeks late in bud break. Then Mother Nature played a little trick on us and got unseasonably cold, which sort of put the brakes on shoot growth. Today’s weather report looks great for the next week, with temperatures in the low to mid 70s, which should get us back on track. The vines look good, with a little green growth and not much in the way of winter damage, as it was a fairly mild winter, with only one day of below-zero temperatures. We’ve seen a bit of rain lately, April was close to normal rainfall, and as of mid-May we’ve received almost 2 inches of rain in the Fosterville vineyard. This welcome rain is making up for the near-drought conditions of the 2020 growing season.
You may have heard the term “sustainable viticulture.” It is about growing grapes with the minimal amount of impact on the environment. The definition from the Vine Balance Sustainable Viticulture of the Northeast Association is, “Sustainable agriculture attempts to minimize environmental impacts and ensure economic viability and a safe, healthy workplace through the use of environmentally and economically sound production practices.” These practices include:
• Soil management, which encompasses soil erosion, cover crops between the vineyard rows, and drainage concerns.
• Nutrition management: Are fertilizers applied? Is irrigation used?
• Vineyard management: Is the trellis system appropriate for the grape variety? Are grafted vines protected from winter damage?
• Weed management: Is the vineyard monitored for weeds? Which type of herbicides are used?
• Pest management: Is the sprayer calibrated regularly? Is pruning done to minimize over-wintering pathogens and insects, and provide good airflow between vines?
• Pesticide management: Are pesticides properly stored, mixed and applied? Are spray application records kept up to date?
And finally, sustainable viticulture asks if the vineyard manager participates in continuing education, and attends grower meetings. Finger Lakes grape growers and wineries have been practicing sustainable viticulture for many years, and are fortunate to have great continuing education programs offered through the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Finger Lakes Grape Program and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.
I attended the spring 2021 Integrated Pest Management meeting on April 28, with lots of other grape growers and winemakers. It was a virtual meeting again this year, but going forward we should be getting back to in-person meetings! Topics included: vine analysis to determine any nutrient requirements that may be needed in the vineyard, using sheep to graze in the vineyard for weed management, sprayer calibration and the spotted lanternfly, the newest invasive species insect that can be very destructive to vineyards. Fortunately, the SLF has not yet made it into the Finger Lakes vineyards, but we need to be vigilant and be prepared if it does show up.
We’re still busy in the winery bottling wines from the last several vintages. This is also the time we have representatives of oak barrel manufacturers from the USA and Europe traveling to local wineries to discuss upcoming barrel requirements.
Things are progressing from one year ago, when tasting rooms and restaurants were closed. So, hopefully very shortly, we will be back to more normal times, where we can get out and visit wineries and vineyards and do some wine tastings and frequent local restaurants to enjoy farm-fresh foods along with fine Finger Lakes wines.
Chris Scholomiti is co-owner and winemaker at CJS Vineyards & Aurelius Winery, located at 6900 Fosterville Road, Aurelius. The winery’s tasting room is now open by appointment. The winery also offers curbside pickup and direct wine shipments. For more information, questions or comments about the column or wine and grape-growing in the Finger Lakes, email email@example.com, call (315) 730-4619 or find the winery on Facebook.