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north fork vineyard grape harvest wine
Photo by Barbaraellen Koch

On an unseasonably warm afternoon in Jamesport last week, a group of men used tiny red scissors to carefully snip clusters of sauvignon blanc grapes from vines at Paumanok Vineyards, their faces shielded from the sun’s rays by broad-brimmed canvas hats.

Once the fruit had been cut and inspected for rot or disease, the workers moved from vine to vine, gingerly lowering the small green grapes into large plastic bins. When enough bins were filled, Paumanok winemaker Kareem Massoud would load them onto his Ford pickup and drive them to his family’s winery in Aquebogue, where the grapes would be pressed by machine.

The hard work at the vineyard and winery signify an always exciting event for wine enthusiasts: it’s once again grape harvest season on the North Fork. And as of mid-September, local winemakers said they’re satisfied with the quantity and quality of the grapes they’ve been picking. “So far, so good,” Mr. Massoud said. Paumanok has already harvested its chardonnay, which will be used to make sparkling wine. Once all the sauvignon blanc grapes have been picked, workers will begin picking “whatever is ready next,” he said. How can you tell when a grape is ready to be harvested? Well, a number of methods are used. At Paumanok, Mr. Massoud said, employees perform scientific lab analyses but also rely on four basic human senses: sight, scent, taste and touch.

“You can see the change of color in the grape [when it’s ready to be picked],” Mr. Massoud said. “It feels softer, but most important, you can taste the ripening of the flavors.”

north fork harvest vineyard
Photo by Barbaraellen Koch

On the North Fork, harvest season generally begins in September, said McCall Wines owner and winemaker Russ McCall. Typically, he said, pinot noir and chardonnay ripen at his Cutchogue vineyard first and are followed by the other varietals, or types of grape.

Mr. McCall doesn’t plan on picking his next varietal, merlot, until mid-October. The harvest season usually ends in November, he said.

“I thought it was very successful,” Mr. McCall said of his vineyard’s harvest of 11 acres of pinot noir last week. It took four days to handpick all the grapes. “The last few days were clear, cool and dry, so that’s good,” he said.

Rich Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue and Corey Creek in Southold, assessed the season as Mr. McCall had. Mr. Olsen-Harbich was busy Friday morning harvesting two acres of chardonnay at Corey Creek, which will be used to make sparkling wine.

grape harvest north fork vineyard winery
Photo by Barbaraellen Koch

“It looks very good,” he said. “We’ve had nice weather the last few months. Since July was nice and hot and August was real good, I can’t complain. The quality is there, and it’s excellent.”

Mr. McCall said that, in terms of quality, he’s confident his 2013 crop will outshine both his 2011 and 2012 vintages.

“The most important thing going into the harvest is to have lower-than-average rainfall during the summer,” he said. “If you have less rain, particularly during August and September, you have a better chance of high quality and good concentration. That concentration of good flavors is going to get us our really authentic North Fork richness.

“2010 was a benchmark, high-high quality vintage,” Mr. McCall said of the harvest three years ago, which yielded excellent results across the North Fork. “I don’t think we’re going to reach the quality of ’10, but in my vineyard we’re going to be better than ’11 and ’12.”

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