The 2015 harvest is in the books. It was a strange year, wet and cooler in the spring, then some real warmth and a killer freeze on May 22, then record rain in June. The second half of July saw a drying trend to the point of drought stress, with lots of heat by the end of August. September brought more heat, with a bit of early rain, and put the season back on track. Through all of this up-and-down season, the small crop ripened nicely: tasty grapes with good sugars levels and low acids. We actually harvested early this year, and it seems that the vinifera (European grape varieties, such as Riesling, pinot noir, cabernet Franc, etc.) grape production was down throughout the Finger Lakes, with many wineries unable to get all the grapes they needed. The French-American hybrid grapes (Cayuga white, baco noir, traminette, etc.) fared a little better, but I think we’ll see production was down there, too. Generally, the 2015 wines should be very good, but I think growers and winemakers are glad it’s over.
In the winery, the 2015 wines are finishing up fermentation, both alcohol and malolactic. The alcohol fermentation comes first, changing grape sugars to alcohol. Then, many times, we do a secondary malolactic fermentation at the end of the alcohol fermentation or with it, which changes the harsh malic acid (naturally occurring in grapes) into the softer lactic acid, making the wine better-tasting. Many dry red wines and some whites are aged in oak barrels to soften the tannins and a bit of oak flavor. Most white wines in the Finger Lakes are made and aged in stainless steel vessels, giving a clean, crisp taste — think of the Rieslings. The new wines will age anywhere from six months to three years, depending on the style the winemaker is try to achieve.
This month on our tour of local Cayuga County wineries, I spoke with Janice Scholomiti, co-owner of CJS Vineyards on Fosterville Road in the Town of Aurelius. We planted our Fosterville Vineyard 20 years ago. In 2003, we opened the new winery and tasting room, and helped her brother plant a vineyard on Owasco Lake. Riesling, chambourcin, pinot noir and cabernet Franc are grown on the 3.25 acres. CJS Vineyards is best known for its estate dry and semi-dry Rieslings, and its estate barrel-aged dry reds. Tasting and tours are available from April to December on weekends at the Fosterville vineyard and winery.
The Thanksgiving holiday is rapidly approaching. People often ask, “What’s a good wine to serve with the turkey dinner?” Since everyone’s palate and tastes are different, there are many wines that pair well with Thanksgiving dinner. More traditional varieties are Riesling and pinot noir. Both wines have enough flavor acidity to pair well with a big meal of roast turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, yet they are not too strong and alcoholic as to overpower the meal. Maybe you’re going to deep-fry the turkey — try a bigger red in that case, like cabernet Franc, cab sauvignon or a hearty chambourcin! A bolder wine may enhance the heavier, fried turkey taste. Another thought is a rosé, a wine made using a red grape, but processed like a white grape. It's a lighter-style dry wine that accents the turkey dish really well. Experiment at Thanksgiving and offer your guests a Riesling, a pinot noir or a dry rosé. A wide variety of these great wines are available right here in Cayuga County at your local wineries, so check them out for Thanksgiving!