I was hoping to achieve something along the lines of the Long Island versions since I liked them the best. My climate here is closer to the Finger lakes in the winter, but Long Island in the summer with the big exception of the fact that there is no large body of water near me to lengthen the ripeneing period by moderating temperatures in the late fall, when the water holds some heat and delays the first killing frost for a couple of weeks. I had read that some growers in places like Minnesota take their vines down off the trellis and bury them under a layer of dirt due to winter lows that prevent the growing of fine wine grapes. I figured hey it's only five vines, these guys are burying hundreds or thousands. No problem! And it wasn't, the first year. It didn't take me long at all an hour or two maybe. The vines came through with flying colors. Then I had a great idea; I was struggling to keep ten of the original vines I planted healthy. The variety was Chancellor another French-American hybrid that was very susceeptible to fungal diseases. So I ordered 25 more Cabernet Franc vines and in the spring I ripped out Chancellor and replanted with the Cab Franc. They grew nicely but pruning them down and burying them now that there was 30 was a lot of work. I did it for three years and as the vines got bigger, it got even harder. There was also the problem of a very short window of opportunity between leaf drop in late October/early November and the time the ground froze solid in mid-December. Especially when you only have weekends to get it done.
The coldest temperature I have recorded in my backyard since I planted my vineyard is -17F. Fortunately I had the vines burried that year. But there have also been three years when the temperature never dropped below zero. The bottom line is I have stopped burrying the vines. Instead, I have devised a riskier but much easier method. I leave the vines up on the trellis and do what is done in the Finger Lakes - I "hill them up". Basically I mound up dirt around the base of the vines over the graft union. That is where the "Cab Franc wood" is grafted to the rootstock. This way if the worst happens and the whole vine is killed by low temperatures, you can regrow from the ground up. Then I take it a step further. I also let the vine grow a sucker each year, which is basically a shoot from the base that could be another trunk. Since the shoot is so thin and flexible it is very easy to bend down and pin to the ground before winter. If winter temperatures don't cause any damage, I'll just prune it off in the spring and grow a new one for next year. After "hilling up" I blow any snow from my driveway throughout the winter, onto the vines to add a layer of insulation to the vines for further protection. Is it a perfect method? No, but so far I have had a full crop every year. There is still the possibility I could have 100% kill of everything exposed to cold air if the temperature drops low enough, but that's where the extra shoot/trunk will come in. It will at least give me a small crop the next year and a full crop the year after. So far my risk has paid off. I better watch my tongue, it's only January!
This year was the very best quality fruit I have taken from the vines. It was clean, disease free and very dark blue (as you can see above). Here are the harvest numbers:
Not bad for our frosty and unforgiving climate Huh? The wine tastes great so far, but we'll know better in about six months. I'm very excited though, maybe I'll be the first person to make a good red vinifera wine in the Capital Region of New York State. Now that would be something.