Since 2005 Bedell Cellars has been conducting an experiment with their cabernet vines. Soon after veraison, when the grapes turn from green to black, vineyard workers have been covering the ground between the rows to prevent any excess moisture from getting to the roots of the plants. Excess moisture like the rains that accompany hurricanes are common in our area right before harvest.
The idea to cover the ground came from Bedell’s consultant, the sauve Pascal Marty. (Check out his impressive bio here.)
Donna Rudolph, assistant vineyard manager at Bedell and Cellarette’s guide through the 2008 growing season, said the last time Pascal visited he said he thought the vines were about two weeks behind where they were last year.
It has been a very cool August, but the first week in September has been hot. We are, however, expecting a wet weekend. (A good roundup of August’s weather from the NYT is here.)
This year, said Donna, Bedell’s covering all of its cabernet, just over four acres, instead of the two acres it has covered for the past three. All the cabernet is in the Well’s Road vineyard on the Main Road in Peconic, on the north east corner of Route 25 and Peconic Lane.
Keeping extra water from the vines at this stage of ripening prevents the grapes from sucking up the water and becoming dilute. This will lower sugar levels, which in turn lowers alcohol levels and detracts from the ripeness the vineyard workers have been seeking all summer long. Worst-case scenarios involve grapes sucking up so much water they burst. Disaster.
Bedell does this with its cabernet only, as it is the last variety to ripen, and Pascal believes, said Donna, that water restriction is the only way to get that green flavor out of Long Island cabernet. In addition, they believe radiant heat from the black plastic also aids the ripening.
And let’s not forget the ultimate goal, keeping water from the vines at this stage makes the wine taste better, said Donna. Pascal and Bedell’s winemaker, Kelly Urbanik, conducted tests in the past years comparing wine from the uncovered grapes to wine from the covered grapes. The covered wine has consistently tasted better.
Wine from Bedell’s cabernet only goes into its blends, Museé and Taste red. They do not make a single varietal.
Needless to say covering the ground with plastic heavy enough to withstand tractor traffic is time-consuming and expensive, making Donna glad they only have four acres of cabernet.