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You Can’t Spell Winter Without Wine

There’s no doubt that winter is an extremely beautiful time of the year here in Wine Country. Sure, it’s extremely cold, but the way the snow blankets the tree branches after a fresh coating is mesmerizing to the eyes. Not to mention the feeling snow gives you. We’ve recently had a couple snow storms in the Finger Lakes, and even as an adult, the feeling I got when I looked out the window and saw all the snow transported me back to being in school. My first thought: snow day! It doesn’t always happen like that as an adult, but this particular storm happened on a weekend and I wasn’t planning on going anywhere!

When the snow falls, there’s a common misconception that Wine Country comes to a booming halt! Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but many people, even locals, think that all things wine are either non-existent or severely slowed down. That may be true in certain areas, but surprisingly, there’s still a ton of things going on in every wine-related aspect.

Let’s start in the vineyard. Like many, I’m also guilty of thinking that vineyard work just stopped right after harvest. After all, what could possibly need to be done in 18 degree weather? Well for starters, some wineries harvest ice wine around that temperature, but it doesn’t stop there. Until the ground is frozen, the vineyard crew is working on fixing any broken trellis pieces that may have been damaged by equipment throughout the growing and harvest season. They’re also fertilizing the vines. This harvest season yield was above average, so the vines could use the extra food to recuperate. Once Mother Nature freezes the ground, or if the crew completed all that work, it’s on to pruning/trimming. It’s been a frigid winter thus far, so the vineyards crews have to dress to withstand the cold, wind and snow. The only exceptions are if it’s close to minus 10 degrees (it’s simply too cold to be outside) or if there’s ice on the vines. Pruning when they’re covered in ice could cause damage to the ice-covered fruiting buds.

The bottling lines are typically in full swing this time of year. Many wineries need to bottle to make room for wines inside the winery that have been stored outside in tanks undergoing cold stabilization, which is a process of chilling the wines causing the tartaric acid in the wine to crystallize and “drop out” of the wine naturally (no additives used to reduce the wines acidity). The wine makers are also busy doing blending trials on 2017 releases, making sure they get it just right.

The biggest misconception is that the wineries aren’t open in the winter. Many of the wineries do shorten their hours for the season, but only one tasting room on our trail closes down entirely for a few months, so there’s still plenty of places to visit! Personally, I think the winter time is the best time to go around for a tasting. With it being a slower time, the wineries don’t need to staff as heavily. There’s a big chance that you’ll be served a tasting by the owner or wine maker him or herself! Imagine sampling and learning about a wine from the person who made it? Priceless.

Winerys still host events in the colder months. One winery has an event based around Chili, which is sure to warm you up! Others take advantage of the colder months and host annual wine sales to help make room for the new vintages being bottled. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Day are both causes to celebrate. The Wine Trail also hosts Mardi Gras at each of the 14 wineries at the end of February and Bacon on the Lakein at the end of March. A little cold weather won’t stop us from having fun and enjoying wine!

The biggest winter question is: “Have these consistently cold temperatures affected the vines at all?” But first, a brief lesson on the winter hardiness of the vines. Vinifera varieties such as Chardonnay and Riesling can withstand temperatures as low as minus 5 degrees. Our native varieties like Niagara and Concord can withstand in the minus 10 to 15 range. That being said, we haven’t actually reached a point where there’s been a concern for any bud damage. The snow also acts as an insulator for the trunks, which helps protect from cold temperatures.

Katherine Chase is the events coordinator for the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, America’s First. Taste a bit of history. To learn more, visit: www.cayugawinetrail.com

Katherine Chase