Finger Lakes or bust: how wineries are taking innovative approaches to changing climate

The winters of 2014 and 2015 dealt Tom and Susan Higgins, the owners of Heart & Hands Wine Co. in the Finger Lakes, a one-two punch that left them concerned about the viability of their business.

It started with the fierce winter of 2014. January and February temperatures were a roller coaster ride from highs near 50, rapidly dipping down well below zero, then back up and down again. There was a swing of 59 degrees in five days’ time in February.

These conditions were harsh for many fruit crops, but especially for the couple’s prized Pinot noir grapes; movie buffs will remember Pinot as the favored wine in the movie Sideways. Growers call it the “heartbreak grape” or “a Goldilocks variety” because it is temperamental and likes temperatures not too hot and not too cold.

At the end of the winter, Tom Higgins headed to the vineyard to assess the damage by clipping some vines, then scraping their surface to examine the buds. Green meant a bud was alive; gray meant a bud was dead. In 2014, nearly every bud was gray.

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