Being a winemaker can be extremely rewarding and stressful, especially during the critical harvest season. There is sleep deprivation during the fall months as grapes are picked early in the mornings followed by crushing and pressing often extending into the late evening hours. There are fermenting tanks that must be constantly monitored and red wine fermentation caps that need to be “punched down” every few hours. Now that we are a few weeks into “Vintage 2010" we were able to catch up with a rising star in the region, Jeff Houck, the lead winemaker at Lucas Vineyards (west side of Cayuga Lake.) In addition to being a well-respected winemaker, he has two children with wife, Stephanie, co-owner of Lucas.
Jeff Houck, winemaker at Lucas Vineyards, has been with the winery since 1996. He is married to Stephanie Lucas, daughter of winery owner Ruth. Jeff came to Lucas after several years of restaurant management. He quickly developed a passion for winemaking and gravitated toward that part of the business. Jeff worked with Ruth for several years before taking over the winemaking position. Today, Jeff overseas wine production of over 25,000 cases at Lucas. He has been instrumental in developing several new wines for Lucas including Dry Rosé, Syrah (read more about Jeff's Syrah project), Reserve Cabernet Franc, Reserve Riesling, and the dessert style Cabernet Franc and Vidal Iced wines.
When did harvest start at your winery and with what varieties? When do you expect to have all harvest activities finished?
Harvest started the second week in September for us. We picked Seyval Blanc as well as Cayuga White.
There has been much information reported that this year’s harvest is at least two weeks ahead of a typical year. Overall, how have your vineyards progressed this year?
Fairly similar to others, we got off to an early bud break and enjoyed abundant sunshine as well as timely rain to keep our canopies healthy. We had the right conditions to really ripen our fruit.
We never like to ask a winemaker to talk about the quality of a vintage until the harvest is well over, but can you give us some early impressions of “vintage 2010”?
The vinifera reds have the possibility of being the ripest most expressive fruit we have possibly seen. Riesling may be more challenging in keeping the classic Finger Lakes acid balance that many of us love. Overall, a nice year to make wine.
Harvest can be the most stressful period of time at a winery. What are some ways you cope with the pressure?
Lots of prayers and of course I eat on the run constantly.
Are you making any new wines this year? If so, why? And have you stopped making any wines? If so, why?
After adding quite a few wines over the last few years I think this year we will stick with the existing wine (portfolio.)
What do you think the wine industry in the Finger Lakes will look like in 10 years?
I wish I knew. I think that the (wine) quality from the Finger Lakes will continue to be pushed ahead. I hope we will be able to market ourselves to the rest of the country and eventually open distribution to other areas. Maybe we will own NYC in ten years. Oh I’m dreaming…
What are your plans for January?
Recharge and get ready for an exciting 2011.
Get more harvest updates from Jeff on Twitter.