Dry weather, drought a mixed bag for Northeast vineyards
BERLIN >> Grape harvests are underway at vineyards in the Northeast where unusually dry warm weather this summer was ideal for growing grapes.
But in parts of New York and southern New England, where drought struck, some growers are seeing decreasing yields.
New York, the country's third largest wine producer, was hit hard by drought in the Finger Lakes wine region.
Gene Pierce, owner of Glenora Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake, said his and other vineyards are seeing smaller crop yields, ranging from a 10 percent decline to as much as 30 to 40 percent.
On the other hand, dry weather can bring a more intensely flavored wine.
"Common thinking says drier years yield a more fruit-intense flavor," Pierce said.
But it's too early to tell how the dry weather will affect the quality of the crop, he said.
Dry conditions also tend to mean fewer crop diseases than a humid summer, said Tim Martinson, senior associate for viticulture at Cornell University's Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.
He predicted grape harvests will likely be smaller for some growers. But "What's there is going to be really good stuff," Martinson said.
In California, known for its wineries, grapes have adapted to cyclical drought, according to the Wine Institute in San Francisco. With last winter's rains amid a 5-year-old drought, growers expect the 2016 crop will have normal yields, the institute says.
In New England, which contributes only a small amount to overall U.S. wine production, the dry weather was a mixed bag.
In northern New England, Vermont vineyards benefited from prime grape growing weather and escaped much of the drought that hit southern New England.
"This year's harvest at Lincoln Peak Vineyard is great — both quantity and quality," said Sara Granstrom of the vineyard in New Haven, Vermont, that is in the midst of a near record crop. "The 2016 growing season was dry, warm, and sunny — the perfect combination for growing grapes. But it wasn't as dry as other areas in the Northeast, so we didn't see any reduction in the crop from drought."
Fresh Tracks Farm Winery and Vineyard in Berlin, Vermont, also is picking an abundant crop.
"We had a dry summer, which for a lot of the farmers around here has not been the greatest but for grapes for us it's actually been really great because Vermont is a pretty wet climate for grapes and these varieties they were bred to survive in a colder climate, but you know the dryer the better really for them so it's been awesome," said Hannah Swanson, assistant winemaker.
Lewis Eaton, president of New Hampshire Winery Association, said he's hearing good reports from wineries throughout the state.
"The crop miraculously was incredible," said Eaton, who also owns Sweet Baby Vineyard in Hampstead. "High sugar numbers, higher than normal, 25 percent more harvest, more harvest weight," he said.
Farther south, Turtle Creek Winery in Lincoln, Massachusetts, had winter damage to vines followed by the drought, which in combination significantly reduced yields, said owner Kip Cumler.
"But in our case at least the fruit is excellent. The dry weather meant much less fungal disease, which is sort of the bane of existence in this part or the country. Our fruit has never been as clean as it was or as high quality in my opinion. We'll see. It's too soon to know for sure."
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