Hot, Dry Summer in Eastern Vineyards
Near ideal conditions are ‘rare treat’ for US and Canadian winemakers
by Linda Jones McKee
Sorting Frontenac grapes at Park Farm Winery in Bankston, Iowa. Upper Midwest grapegrowers faced more challenging conditions than the Atlantic seaboard states.
It’s been a hot and dry summer across much of the East, and where last year’s grapegrowing problems came from too much rain, this summer it has been too much heat. As Mark Chien, Pennsylvania Viticulture Extension Educator, noted in a recent newsletter, in 2009 southeastern Pennsylvania had one day over 90° but in 2010 there were more than 50 days over 90°.
The result has been a harvest that is much earlier than normal, by two to three weeks. According to Chien, “It is rare [in Pennsylvania] when harvest decisions are not driven by negative quality variables such as rain, disease, frost, etc. So far this year winemakers have been able to pick when they think the grapes are ready, a rare treat in the East.”
The hot summer in the mid-Atlantic states was also extremely dry. While parts of Pennsylvania had heavy rainfall the second week in July, areas just to the south in Maryland and northern Virginia have not had significant rain through all of July and August. The result has been an early harvest across the region by about two weeks.
Joe Fiola, Specialist in Viticulture and Small Fruit in Maryland, told Wines & Vines, “The quality is great, harvest is early, but winemakers are getting low juice yields.” While the dry season has been good for concentrating the flavors in the berries, the fruit is giving about 70% of what is normally expected in the amount of juice pressed. Parts of Maryland are five to six weeks ahead of normal for harvesting, and even many of the red grapes have been picked. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are finished, and growers are now picking Cabernet Sauvignon.
The musts and juices have been amazing so far this year. I can just imagine what the wines will be like when they’re ready! I’ve never seen Maryland grapes so perfectly ripe all across the board.