THE 2012 GRAPE HARVEST VINTAGE REPORT IN NIAGARA: HOT, DRY AND A WILD START AND END
Harvest 2012 in Niagara officially ended the day Hurricane Sandy slammed into southern Ontario on Oct. 27.
The harvest was pretty much over anyway, with reports of only a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon still in the vineyard. There’s no word on what will become of that fruit still hanging out there but it’s safe to say it got pummeled by the relentless wrath of the post-tropical superstorm that roared up the eastern seaboard and still had enough punch to put an end to any dreams of late-hanging fruit in Ontario.
I am not certain what will become of this year’s icewine crop, but I will wager a beer or two that it will be down significantly.
What a year it was!
It started with early spring heat that forced a premature bud break. That was interrupted by a late frost that sent vineyard managers scurrying to start their wind machines and those without to hire helicopters to do whatever they could to buy a degree or two of heat. Some even lit fires near the vineyards to heat things up a bit.
The frost was short lived and the damage was minimal in the long run with only the odd vine showing signs of damage later in the season.
After the frost threat, the heat came and never let up the entire spring and summer. Record temperatures, severe drought everywhere in Niagara and one great pool day after another (if you measure a season by pool days like I do) kept vine maturation about three weeks ahead of normal for the entire season.
The first grapes came off the vine in mid-August for sparkling wines and the rest of the harvest went like clockwork with one variety after another coming in for the rest of the season. Only a few episodes of rain stopped the picking and, even then, it was only briefly.
Enthusiasm is high for the 2012 vintage, albeit a little smaller than normal, across the broad spectrum of varieties as winemakers sample their ferments and decide their next course of action.
The bigger red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah are usually the beneficiaries of a hot, dry vintage but many are touting the Pinot Noir as being a superstar this year.
The high brix (sugar content) on all varieties set records but the test will be balancing that with moderate acidity.
Of the whites, Gewurztraminer will be a star along with Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. There are mixed feelings about Chardonnay with some very excited about the ripeness.
The surprise of the vintage just might be the Riesling. You would assume Riesling would be the most affected by a hot vintage as acid is crucial. But early ferments are showing wonderful complexity, flavours, ripeness and balance. Wineries who picked in stages for acid and ripeness will benefit the most.
While too early to declare success, the vintage will be reminiscent of 2010, 2007 and 2002. The difference will be in the lessons learned from those hot vintages and the picking decisions that followed.
Here are some thoughts from a few Niagara wineries on the 2012 vintage.
GRAHAM RENNIE, OWNER, RENNIE VINEYARDS
The 2012 vintage will be considered as the benchmark for excellence in fruit quality, yield and ripeness. The last few weeks of crush were idyllic as there was an orderly procession of fruit arriving at the hopper each day that helped to maintain a calm, but energetic atmosphere within the winery.
The last of our Cabernet Sauvignon is still hanging (as of last week) and is on the verge of full physiological ripeness. The fermenting juice from each of our varietals was outstanding and our sensory experience from the aromatics that engulf the winery provide us with an indication of the stunning wines we will produce from this wonderful 2012 vintage.