You’ve probably noticed that over the past month or so our local vineyards have gone from brown and drab to green and vibrant, with shoots reaching farther toward the sky every day. That’s because bud break arrived in early May, starting with early varieties during the first week of the month and others since then.
Bud break is the first stage of the grapevine’s growing cycle that — if all goes well — results in ripe, flavorful grapes in the fall, which our local vintners then turn into the wines we all enjoy.
One thing everyone should know about growing grapes on Long Island is that there really isn’t such a thing as a “typical” season. Every single one is different. Our weather and climate see to that. Still, as the real start of the growing season, bud break is tracked year after year and is an early indicator of what the season might bring. The first week of May is late compared to some recent warmer recent years, but it’s not historically late.
“This is the old ‘normal,’ said Paumanok Vineyards’ Kareem Massoud. “It used to be that we could reliably expect bud break to occur the first week of May. In recent years, and consistent with what is expected from climate change, we have seen bud break dates advance earlier into April.”
As anyone who gardens has no doubt noticed, we’ve had a lot of rain and not a lot of sunshine this spring. While it may not be good for some of your flowers or vegetable plants, all the rain has probably been good for your grass. I know it has been for mine.
Grapevines, at least early in the season, don’t mind the rain either. “You want water in the ground for the start of the growing season, so it is mostly a good thing,” said Massoud.
“It’s hard to disentangle water and temperature,” said Alex Rosanelli, winemaker for Hound’s Tree Wines. “Cold and rainy slows everything down, which pushes the real start of the growing season. What we have had is mostly warm and rainy, which together contribute to vigor and shoot growth so the vines are actually a bit taller than they were at this time in 2015, which was a warm/dry spring, and well farther along than 2016, which was cool and wet.”
With the beautiful summers we enjoy on Long Island, it can be easy to forget just how wet our springs usually are.
“This kind of spring is more or less normal for us,” said Bedell Cellars winemaker Rich Olsen-Harbich. “We will be in a drier period, I’m sure, later in June into the summer.”
So while we may not be enjoying the rain, the vines don’t mind it. Vineyard managers are dealing with some extra weeds in the vineyard, but no one is panicking. They know better. It’s a long season — and it’s what happens in June and beyond that will really determine the quality of the 2018 vintage on Long Island.
So what do local grape growers and winemakers want — even need — for the rest of the season to make great wine?
Richie Pisacano, Wölffer Estate vineyard manager and co-owner of Roanoke Vineyards, said: “We can only hope that the rains are not prolonged and that humidity is not too high. We are always looking for ample heat for a successful fruit set and healthy vine development.”
“Lots of sunshine, clear days, nice breezes, moderate temperatures under 90 and very little rain,” said Olsen-Harbich.
Alie Shaper, owner/winemaker for Brooklyn Oenology/As If Wines, doesn’t own any vineyards, but works closely with growers across the North Fork. She summed up the best-case scenario quite well, telling me, “[This] spring is reminding me of 2014, which started rather cool and a bit wet — and then quickly shifted gears with the arrival of June and one of the warmest local seasons on record, to produce one of our best vintages. Here’s hoping 2018 is another!”
Here’s hoping for another, indeed.
A version of this story appeared originally in the Suffolk Times/Northforker.com