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A vintage harvest

Paul Roberts//October 29, 2013

A vintage harvest

By Paul Roberts

//October 29, 2013

The 2013 wine harvest is wrapping up around the region and, despite challenges posed by excessive rainfall in early to midsummer, most wineries report another excellent vintage — the second in a row and, going back to 2010, three out of four.

Dry weather in September and October is ideal for ripening grapes, since moisture promotes fungal infections within the cluster, and some thin-skinned varieties when fully ripe are shattered by heavy rainfall. In any serious wine region — and the industry in the Eastern U.S. is two centuries old — these months are also among the driest of the climate calendar. What makes our region somewhat unique is rainfall through the growing season and — completely unique — being in the path of Atlantic hurricanes.

Good vintages in the East coincide with low-hurricane years. In 2009 and 2011, for example, consecutive tropical disturbances in fall washed out promising starts. The storm that camped out over the Atlantic seaboard for four days this month came after several weeks of dry, sunny weather; grapes still hanging generally were thick-skinned red varieties, and most were not damaged. (Hurricane Sandy, last year, hit after the growing season had ended.)

From my days of working in the California industry, I occasionally talk to former colleagues during harvest. A quarter-inch of rain sends them into emergency mode. A 4-inch rainstorm, like those we experience nearly every autumn? It’s unimaginable in California — and in nearly every other wine-growing district in the world.

This moisture pattern, which, correspondingly, means that much less sunny weather, is what accounts for the generally sharper acidity of our wines. In our tasting room, people not familiar with wine growing often ask for “big, heavy red wines” like those from California or Southeastern Australia.

“You need lots of sun and not much rain to make those sorts of wines,” I patiently explain. Americans can be quick to categorize and pass judgment, so I encourage the basis of cultural appreciation: understand the weather and geography that make a region distinctive, then seek out producers who succeed despite those limitations.

Small Biz Buzz wine buys: Here is one example that blurs the lines of summer rosé season, being especially full-bodied and full-flavored: Liquid Geography 2012 Monastrell Rosé (Bullas, Spain). This workhouse Spanish red grape is seldom seen as a pink (on foreign shores anyway), but Liquid Geography should force a major rethink: a wacky/fun onion skin/copper color, with juicy/creamy fruit sherbet flavors that marry beautifully to an array of foods (including, as is so often the case with Iberian wines, fish; I’m thinking grilled, with dill and caper sauce). But try with tomato-based stews, as well. $11.


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