Vintners stay positive despite setbacks
This year, Mother Nature has given local grape growers a run for their money, but despite the circumstances growers continue to push through the season and remain positive.
“We’ve still got a ways to go before harvest, so a lot of things can happen between now and then,” said Jason Eells, board president of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association. “Grape growers are pretty resilient. Every year is different and you roll with the punches.”
Due the heavy rains the area experienced this year during the winter season, several growers lost their entire crops to flooding, Eells said.
From the beginning of the season on July 31, 2016 until Wednesday, the Lodi area received 32.22 inches of rain, according to private weather monitoring service Weather Underground. The normal amount of rainfall for the area is 17.5 inches.
“We haven’t had a winter like this in a long, long time. It’s new for some of the newer growers, and for the older growers, they’ve seen it before,” Eells said.
Tom Hoffman, owner of Heritage Oaks Winery in Lodi, is still dealing with the aftermath of one of his vineyards flooding.
Approximately 10 acres of his grape vines along the Mokelumne River were flooded earlier this winter after a levee failure. While the water has finally gone down, the vines are now filled with mildew and are fruitless.
Hoffman’s not sure exactly how to salvage his vines for next season, but he is considering cutting the vines off at the trunk to retrain them. In all his years of grape growing, Hoffman said, he has never had this experience before.
“We’re dealing with it. It is stressful. It will be expensive, but you just do what you have to do, I guess,” he said.
Another local grower, Stanton Lange, said one of the vineyards he manages for his client was flooded. His vines had been partially submerged in about 3 feet of water since January; the water just went down three weeks ago, he said.
“It’s flooded before, but not nearly as long of a time period as this year,” he said.
Because of the flooding, Lange said, the 10-acre vineyard will have no crop this year. They were unable to prune the vines until the end of May due to the high water. The late pruning ended the crop for this year.
In addition to late pruning, the vineyard lost 15 percent of its vines. Luckily, the vines that did survive weren’t fully submerged so they were able to continue growing without pruning.
Once the water went down enough, Lange said, they pumped the rest out and pruned what hadn’t been submerged.
“We’ll see what happens as far as the rest of the year is concerned,” he said.
Like Hoffman, Lange expects there to be some mildew on his vines, but since there is no crop he is not too worried. He plans to spray the vines next week, but there is a chance the water may rise again if flows from Camanche Reservoir into the Mokelumne increase.
The loss of a crop will have an affect on his client’s income for the year, Lange said.
“That’s kind of the way farming is. You experience Mother Nature and do things you don’t like, and this is one of them,” he said.
Numerous growers up and down the Mokelumne River are experiencing the same situation, he said.
Eells isn’t sure how the flood will affect next year’s growing season. In an effort to protect crops from flooding in the future, he advises growers and other farmers along the waterways to do what they can to shore up the levees.
“Sometimes there is nothing you can do — it’s pretty hard to control nature,” he said.
If heavy rainfall and flooding wasn’t enough, Eells said, the heat waves, hail storms and labor shortages in recent weeks have also thrown a wrench in the works for the grape growing season.
“It’s been pretty challenging so far,” Eells said.
The labor shortage especially has hindered the growers from getting their work done in a timely manner, he said.
Due to the various hurdles growers have faced this year, the crop is expected to be between average and below average, Eells said.
“Lodi is an upcoming area for other outside wineries to buy fruit, so I think, at the end of the day, we should be OK,” he said. “I would say the biggest concern is labor, and then we’re coming into the harvest in another month or so. It’s going to be interesting.”
Heritage Oak owner Tom Hoffman points to a white film which covers some of his grapes, as he talks about the damage caused by the flooding, which submerged parts of his vineyard for several months, in Acampo on Wednesday.
Heritage Oak owner Tom Hoffman finds spots on the leaves of his grapevines as he talks about the damage to his vineyard caused by the flooding, which submerged parts of his vineyard for several months, in Acampo on Wednesday.
Heritage Oak owner Tom Hoffman points to a white film which covers some of his grapes, as he talks about the damage to his vineyard caused by the flooding, which submerged parts of his vineyard for several months, in Acampo on Wednesday.