Hard rains com­pli­cate grape har­vest for wine

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - News - By Ka­t­rina Ko­ert­ing

Vol­un­teers worked their way through the grape vines at White Silo Farm and Win­ery, cut­ting the fruit to be turned into wine.

It’s a scene that’s a week de­layed — just one of the lat­est chal­lenges this year’s dif­fi­cult grow­ing sea­son has pre­sented with the abun­dance of rain in July and Au­gust.

“We’ve had the worst weather imag­in­able for grape grow­ing,” said Eric Gor­man, man­ag­ing part­ner at White Silo in Sher­man. “It’s chal­leng­ing to grow grapes in Con­necti­cut, pe­riod, with the short sea­son and cold win­ters. This year we had a wet spring, sum­mer and fall, with lots of hu­mid­ity.”

But even with the hard grow­ing sea­son, the ac­tual wine won’t be af­fected.

Vine­yards were gen­er­ally able to har­vest an av­er­age crop, though some saw a bit of a loss in a few va­ri­eties. The grapes just took a lit­tle more at­ten­tion and care than usual.

This in­cluded ex­tra hedg­ing, leaf pulling and mildew sprays.

This year also stands in con­trast to the two ex­cel­lent sea­sons in 2016 and 2017, when the weather was dry and sunny.

“Grapes love a good hot sum­mer, and dry con­di­tions lead to eas­ily ripened grapes with lit­tle threat of mold and mildew dam­age that plagues fruit in gen­eral in Con­necti­cut, but grapes as well,” said Jonathan Ed­wards, pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Vine­yard and Win­ery As­so­ci­a­tion.

This year also dif­fered be­cause there were more in­tense rain­falls with 2 to 3 inches of rain each time, rather than the oc­ca­sional storm.

“It’s pretty much been non­stop,” Gor­man said.

The Dan­bury area saw three to five inches above nor­mal for Au­gust and one to two inches above nor­mal for July, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

Heart of grow­ing sea­son

A lot of rain is not al­ways bad. It just de­pends on when it hits in the grow­ing sea­son.

In May or June when the grapes are flow­er­ing, an abun­dance of rain can hin­der pol­li­nat­ing and cause less fruit to set, trans­lat­ing into a low yield.

Grow­ers have to keep an eye on the leaves to make sure they don’t mildew, which af­fects pho­to­syn­the­sis and pre­vents them from ripen­ing, Ed­wards said.

“The great weather we had in June and early July led to won­der­ful fruit set, and most winer­ies have av­er­age to above av­er­age crops on the vine at this point,” Ed­wards said. “The chal­lenge has been the ex­ces­sive rain. Western Con­necti­cut has had a fair amount more rain than eastern Con­necti­cut, due to the weather pat­tern bring­ing all of the mois­ture up from the mid-At­lantic.”

But Jamie Jones, a Cor­nell Univer­sity grad­u­ate of plant study who tends the vine­yards at the Jones Tree Farm in Shel­ton, said wine lovers need not fret — at least not yet.

“We had a great har­vest in 2016 and 2017,” Jones said. “So they’ll be tast­ing some of our best wines we ever made.”

Come 2020, Jones said, there might be a dif­fer­ent taste to Con­necti­cut-grown wine.

“It was a chal­leng­ing sea­son — kind of the tale of two sum­mers,” said Jones. “We had the heat wave in early July so we had to do more ir­ri­gat­ing. Then be­gin­ning July 17 we started get­ting all the rain, which cre­ated a lot more growth.

“So we had to do a lot of leaf pulling and hedge trim­ming to ex­pose the vines to sun­light and air. Grapes can adapt to hot weather — they don’t thrive in ex­ces­sive rain and hu­mid­ity.”

Large amounts of rain dur­ing the har­vest can di­lute fla­vors be­cause the plant takes in an ex­cess of water. It can also lead to mold and rot in the grape clus­ters if too much water is put in the grape, caus­ing the skins to split.

“The rain’s been chal­leng­ing, to say the least,” said Mark Lang­ford, busi­ness man­ager at DiGrazia Vine­yards in Brook­field.

Vine­yards have to ad­dress other as­pects of the grow­ing sea­son with the weather out of their con­trol. This in­cludes changing when to pick and how of­ten to spray fungi­cides.

Meet­ing state cri­te­ria

Gor­man left his grapes on the line a lit­tle longer so they had some more time to ripen and al­low the su­gar con­tent to re­turn, while Lang­ford took some of his va­ri­eties in a lit­tle early to pre­vent the risk of ru­in­ing the crop.

Lang­ford said he lost some of his crop when Trop­i­cal Storm Florence hit the area.

DiGrazia’s vine­yard is on a hill, which helped drain the field and pre­vent the grapes from sit­ting in water, Lang­ford said.

“It wasn’t as bad as you’d think it was with the fre­quent rain,” he said, adding the deer and birds were hun­grier than usual though.

Lang­ford’s or­ganic grapes tended to do bet­ter than those grown the tra­di­tional way dur­ing the wet weather, but he said the re­search isn’t out yet on why this is. He also found the white grapes have thicker skins and fared bet­ter than red va­ri­eties.

Be­cause the har­vest sizes have been around the same lev­els, grow­ers aren’t wor­ried about meet­ing the state’s wine cri­te­ria.

At least 25 per­cent of the fruit used in wines made by li­censed farm winer­ies in Con­necti­cut must be grown here, ac­cord­ing to state statute.

“This has been a most chal­leng­ing grow­ing sea­son, but Con­necti­cut grow­ers have man­aged the chal­lenges to date,” Ed­wards said.

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­di­afile photo

Bunches of grapes grown to make wines at The Jones Fam­ily Farm win­ery in Shel­ton.

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