Last week in the Finger Lakes, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation invited a few adventurous and strong-backed sommeliers and wine writers to help with the 2012 harvest as part of a new exchange and education program among New York wineries and city-bound industry professionals. During the week, they stayed together in cabins, cooked together using locally-sourced food supplied from loca-loving Red Newt chef Brud Holland and his FLX-centric suppliers, and each day were sent off to different wineries to pick, press, and punch down, as well as check out tank samples from newly fermented grapes, learn about all aspects of winemaking, and get to see the life of a wine starting right in the vineyard.
Edible wine correspondent Amy Zavatto (seen in the picture here stomping around a few tons of Vignoles that she’d just helped to pick – a French-hybrid grape varietal found in both the Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes of New York – in order to make room for more in the press) was one of about a half-dozen to get splashed and splattered with good, NY grape juice and lived to tell the tale. “I’ve visited dozens of wineries, but I’ve never, ever had an opportunity like this to really dig in and work. I loved every minute of it – even the grunt work of washing out a couple hundred lugs at the end of the shift! I’m in awe of how hard it is, but also how there’s this string of little but vital decisions constantly being made all year long. It’s not magic – it’s really hard work and even under the best of circumstances, kind of a nail-biter as to how it’s all going to turn out. But it’s really exciting and invigorating all the same.”
This year was a good one up in the Finger Lakes. Some spring frost lowered the yields out of the gate, but the warm, dry season made for some pretty great grape-growing conditions — and, by and large, an unusually early harvest, too. “They weren’t messing around; they worked Adrian Murcia [writer and sommelier from Wine & Spirits magazine and Brooklyn’s Franny’s] and me pretty hard at Atwater Vineyards the day we were there,” said Zavatto. “But they gave us homemade pie and with a glass of last year’s late-harest Vignoles at the end of the day – which, you know, is how easily I’m bought.”