Our winemaking friends in both Niagara and Prince Edward County are currently neck-deep in the 2017 harvest. Over the past three weeks we have have continually pestered them to leave their vineyards for a few stolen moments to share their thoughts on the year’s grapes with Good Food Revolution… and it has been no easy task.
A man with his feet in both camps (Niagara and Prince Edward County), Norman Hardie tells me that going into September he was a very nervous man, especially with his Pinot fruit, as he was concerned that it would break down before getting ripe; he became a hell of a lot happier when it became apparent that “the sky had run out of rain”. Right now it’s looking as if his County Pinot is around five to 10 days behind that in Niagara, and the Chardonnay coming along at around the same time, but with hugely reduced yields in PEC. He tells me that he has never picked his Cabernet Franc into November before, but that is a certainty this year. He sees this late-ripening year as a truly beautiful thing, and predicts really great concentration from a phenolic standpoint throughout all of his varietals.
“I am writing to you from the fantastic and famous Lowrey Vineyard today! We have started our 2017 Harvest with Chardonnay for sparkling last week and now, Pinot Noir! This vintage year is an exciting one especially with all the warm and dry weather we have and have had over the last few weeks! I love making wine in cooler years because the natural acidity of the grapes holds nicely in balance with sugars and phenolic ripeness of the berry skin, seeds and stems. There are many delicious flavours developing in the fruit and as I am sure you are aware, Adamo Winery picks on flavour and balance.  I have the feeling that the earlier ripening varieties this year will have the advantage for picking for flavours strictly because of the warm and sunny weather. As we move into October the weather will play a huge roll in what develops for the Bordeaux and other big red varieties. This year seems to be the exact opposite of last, where we had hot and dry throughout the season and then the rains came in the fall. I love that this year we are picking in warm and dry conditions and we have time to watch the flavours develop and then can choose our time to pick, rather than the rain helping us make that decision.” – Shauna White, Adamo Estate Winery
Over at Stratus in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Winemaker J. L. Groux tells me in his trademark quizzical manner that it has certainly been an “interesting” vintage thus far. What with a massive deficit of heat units and a great deal of rain over the summer, it’s only over the past few months of warmer and drier weather that things have really begun to evolve to where he’d like to see see them, with those essential heat units building back up to where they need to be for optimum phenolic ripening of fruit. This is, of course, the very best time to be getting weather like this, building complex flavours within the grapes in this latter stage of the vintage. Although he tells me that it’s positively too early to say, J. L. seems quietly confident of this year’s potential, explaining that in some blocks Stratus are picking two weeks ahead of when they had originally predicted, which is certainly a good sign that things are back on the right track. 

“We’re very much looking forward to the 2017 harvest.  The spring was cool and a bit late with the summer remaining cool, so we know the timing of harvest will be delayed and extended meaning that things can be planned and carried out more thoughtfully.  This is much better than 2016 when the heat and drought caused everything to ripen at once — read: “we got slammed!” With brighter flavours and higher acidities, cool vintages such as 2009 and 2013 are always best for Riesling, chardonnay, gamay and pinot but we also know that with patience we can do well with Bordeaux varieties, and the proof is in bottles that we’re enjoying right now.” – Ann Sperling, Southbrook

Up on the Beamsville Bench at Cave Spring, Tom Pennachetti informs me that things are beginning to shape up rather nicely, especially considering the cooler temperatures and rain that plagued the region over the summer months. As he explains, the issue at hand is now achieving the desired ripening of the grapes. He tells me that there were quite a few challenges throughout the summer with the pressure of powdery mildew, and that Cave Spring dropped a lot of fruit, particularly in their Chardonnay and Gamay vineyards, so we’ll be seeing some reduced yields in both those varietals. When we spoke, Thomas told me that he was looking to pick both his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir around the end of September. He stated that he had some concerns about the Chardonnay ripening, but that the Pinot was looking very clean and promising. I’m guessing that his Chardonnay has been loving the unseasonably warm weather that we have been blessed with since we spoke! Cave Spring’s darling Riesling was looking as if it would be a later harvest in October/November, with their small one acre plot of Gewurztraminer looking as if it would picked just before that. He stated that their Cabernet Franc really needed this heat that we have seen over the past two weeks to get to where it needs to be; he sees this Cabernet Franc vintage as being quite similar to the 2014, but not quite as exceptional as 2015 and 2016.

“So far we are a few days into our Pinot Noir picking for Sparkling and whilst quality looks very good yields are up more than expected.  It seems all that Spring and mid-summer rainfall has inspired heavy bunch weights and very healthy productive vines! With the warm weather for the next 10 days and warmer overnight temperatures expected it really puts the pressure on early aromatics, Pinot Noir and Gamay. We are diligently manicuring vines and ensuring we ride through this period, especially with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir – the most sensitive at this time of year. As always, September and the first two weeks of October will  make or break the vintage here in Niagara and so far we are well above seasonal and so off to a flying start!. A little behind in timing by a week, but with the next 30 days cooperating with NO rain and just moderate temps we look to have a bumper year, similar to 2013 and 2014.” – Craig McDonald, Trius/Peller

Down in the Niagara River at Two Sisters, Winemaker Adam Pearce has a serious redneck from spending so much time on his tractor fighting back both mold and mildew brought on by the cool, wet summer experienced all across Ontario. With these lower temperatures leaf plucking and buch thinning has been the order of the day. Two Sisters’ Vladimir Skok tells me that the last five weeks have been a “God’s blessing” as this is exactly what their vineyards needed, and things look set for a very impressive 2017 harvest. Adam has told him that even if there were an impending hailstorm at this point in the season he could still make some really great wines. What with things heating up and drying out over the past four weeks, Vladimir sees this vintage as turning out similarly to the 2013.

 “After last year’s hot and dry vintage, this year began cool and rather wet. We’ve seen a bit of everything including more hail in June and July than we have seen over the past 10 years combined! This vintage has been true cool climate viticulture with a most welcome return to summer temperatures in late September and into October. Even with the late heat-wave, the fruit has retained wonderful acidity across the board.  If I had to pick a favorite variety so far this vintage, the star would be Chardonnay with crisp, pure fruit flavors combined with persistent acidity all wrapped in beautiful golden skins. As I write this, we are starting our Gamay pick here on the Bench and the flavors I’m tasting are both intense and fresh.” Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire.
 So it appears that despite the worries of the summer, 2017 is shaping up to look like a fascinating vintage. It’s early days yet though, but I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing some excellent wines coming from this particular year.

Thanks to all the winemakers above for putting up with my pestering and getting back to me with your comments. 

Jamie Drummond

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And it was quite difficult to pull these folks away from their vines!