2012 Riesling Harvest Outlook

The 2012 grape harvest in the northern hemisphere has already begun in some regions and is imminent in others.

Canada (Ontario) — by Magdalena Kaiser-Smit (Wine Council of Ontario) and Len Pennachetti (Cave Spring Vineyard)

For Ontario, 2012 saw a fantastic growing season resulting in what will likely be the earliest harvest on record. Almost all of the Pinot Noir was harvested by the first week of September. Excellent Pinot fruit with good levels of sugar, but just enough so that the wines will not be too alcoholic. Very good colour extraction during fermentation. Chardonnay is being harvested second week of September at full ripeness with potential alcohol of + 13%. Riesling is ripening quickly with most of it probably being harvested before the end of the third week of September, a good 2-3 weeks ahead of normal harvest. The Bordeaux red varieties could likely end up the best in the history of Niagara, making very ripe, full-bodied wines with high levels of alcohol.

Germany (Rheingau) — reported by Christian Witte, Schloss Johannisberg

We are time-wise just a bit ahead of the average for the last 10 years and expect the harvest to begin in the last week of September or first week of October. It will be for sure a long harvest, since the blossoming took longer than usual due to cold weather, so the ripening will differ from vineyard to vineyard. Quantity wise it will be a normal harvest if everything goes right, but if not it will be a small harvest. Due to the blossoming and Peronospora (Downey mildew) we lost a good amount of grapes but the damage varies from 5-15%. The damaged grapes are dried out and will not harm the quality, but it made the bunches more shattered and will so lower the risk of early Botrytis infection.

Conclusion: normal volume at good to very good quality but it is still some time to go.

Michigan — by Sean O’Keefe, Winemaker at Chateau Grand Traverse

Summer came early to Northern Michigan when we experienced a week of record breaking high temperatures in the upper 80’s in Mid-March. Fortunately there was very little rainfall during this period and the grapes remained dormant through April when night temperatures dipped below freezing. The region’s cherry and apple crops were not so lucky, and were pretty much wiped out by spring frosts. Riesling budbreak occurred two weeks ahead of normal on March 3-10 on the Old Mission Peninsula, followed by a sporadic, drawn out bloom in mid-June. The rest of the summer was very warm and extremely dry with many young, non-irrigated vineyards showing visible signs of drought stress in late August/early September. All in all, the season is an incredible 3-4 weeks ahead of average, and many wineries are planning on harvesting Riesling at the end of September/early October. Riesling flavors are developing very nicely, but the big question now is how long we can maintain good acidity levels before we must pick.

New York — by Jim Trezise, President, International Riesling Foundation and New York Wine
& Grape Foundation

Barring unforeseen rains or other bad weather, New York State’s Riesling crop, predominantly in the Finger Lakes region, is looking very promising this year. It has been a nerve-racking year, starting with an exceptionally warm winter (great for humans but not for vines), followed by a three-day cold snap in early May and a near-drought in July. Quite amazingly, the Riesling vines survived all this and are developing beautifully. The warm weather all year, especially in summer, has resulted in a harvest schedule that is two to three weeks ahead of a “normal” year, which will diminish the chances of a killing frost ending the harvest prematurely.

Finger Lakes — by Bob Madill, President of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, and Hans Walter-
Peterson of Cornell Cooperative Extension

The growing season of 2012 in the Finger Lakes has been the third in a row with higher than normal heat accumulation. As of August 30, the region had accumulated as many growing degree days as is normal for the end of October, and growers started to pick some varieties 2 – 3 weeks earlier. Thanks in large part to the dry weather, most vineyards have had little in the way of disease development (so far). Growers and wineries may be able to let fruit hang longer. The 2010 season was somewhat similar – one of the best the Finger Lakes has ever experienced.

2012 may be superior, in that there has been a bit more rain and less drought – promoting more even ripening throughout the region. Initial pre-harvest samples of Riesling from the Finger Lakes taken as part of Cornell’s Veraison to Harvest project which monitors fruit maturity showed that Brix accumulation was ahead of normal at that point in the season. Conditions can change abruptly, so nobody is making any final declarations about 2012 until the fruit is off the vines.

Washington and Oregon — by Nicolas Quille, Winemaker at Pacific Rim Winemakers

The harvest looks great in Washington and in Oregon. We have witnessed the best weather over the past three years with an average season in heat accumulation. The rainfall has been minimal this summer and the crop looks to be good to large. If all goes well (no cold snap and no rain in Oregon) we should start harvesting in early September the lightly cropped blocks and have a swift and beautiful harvest all the way to mid-October (last year we did not start before mid-October). There is no mildew anywhere and the fruit is healthy with good acids for this time of the year. I do not have statistics for Oregon but Washington is forecasting a record harvest year at 197,000 tons, Riesling should be either #1 or #2 varietal harvested again (tie with Chardonnay) with 39,000 tons or 2.5M cases planted on 7,900 acres.