The Winter of Our Content

Now that February is already half over I figured it was safe to write this post. (Of course, now all hell will break loose!) But wait, it is true that we’ve had an unseasonably nice winter, isn’t it? I think I pushed my snow shovel around just once. There’s no question that the weather we’ve experienced the past few months has been a great deal nicer than last year. The fact is we’re even in a little bit of a drought, with very little precipitation on the east end since December. I don’t think anyone is complaining. What does it all mean for our vineyards? Our field crew certainly thinks it’s been a blessing. They’re working outside everyday pruning our vines regardless of the weather. Right now, without having to fight through snow and severe cold, we are way ahead of schedule.

Although we’ve missed many of the storm systems, the average temperature this winter is still less than 40 degrees. Much nicer than what we could have had, but still plenty cold enough to keep our vines dormant. I should think that our European vines are feeling quite comfortable and right at home.

Vines actually need a certain period of chilling in order to remain healthy and renew themselves for the next year. They don’t completely shut down but undergo what’s called a period of dormancy. Just as a tree loses it leaves in the fall, so does a grapevine slowly go into hibernation. Winter is the time for vines to rest and just like us, if they don’t get enough sleep, they will eventually fail. Grown in the tropics, grapes never stop growing and eventually become stressed out and die. Every vine needs a period of cold weather to break its dormant period and begin growth anew again. Grapes are notoriously deep sleepers and it takes a lot to wake them up. Only when spring temperatures reach a minimum average of 50 degrees and the day length starts to increase will a vine wake up from its long winter’s nap. We don’t usually see enough of those temperatures until at least April.

A big reason we have success growing fine European wine grapes on the North Fork is because our winters are relatively mild. Rarely do we ever see temperatures below zero and we are consistently more moderate than any of the areas surrounding us. It’s also true we have milder weather during the summer season and rarely experience any frost damage to our vines. Why? It’s all about the water of course. The Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound consistently buffer our temperatures, making it warmer during the winter and cooler during the summer.

Will the mild winter lead to an early bud break? It remains to be seen but if I was a betting man I wouldn’t put my money down quite yet. One of the other aspects of our success on the North Fork is that we typically have a long, cool spring. The frigid, surrounding waters chill the air passing over the North Fork, resulting in lots of fog and a March that often goes in - as well as out - as a lion. More often than not, our cool spring weather runs right into the heat of early summer with little time to prep. As my old friend Dave Mudd used to say, “On the North Fork you go from wearing long underwear to shorts in one day.”

Most importantly, as we enjoy this mild winter, let's appreciate nature’s gifts when they fall our way. There’s still plenty of time left for snow and ice but for now, it is the winter of our content, and will soon be made glorious by the sun of the North Fork.