Wines & Vines Special Report
Vintage 2009: North America's growing regions
Our annual review of the growing season in winegrape-producing regions across the continent reveals that for many growers, the year provided almost ideal growing conditions. Except for a mid-harvest deluge that had many California growers hustling to bring in remaining grapes, and a troubling high-acid, high-pH syndrome in parts of the East, Mother Nature generally contributed to generous crops of excellent quality in most states and provinces.
The irony, of course, is that demand for these abundant crops was not always so indulgent. As retailers, distributors and wineries trimmed inventories and consumers traded down, some growers looked to out-of-state markets or custom crush to take their premium fruit, and grape prices in general were stagnant or below previous years.
Still, vineyards and wineries continue to sprout in previously unlikely locales, and the industry looks forward to a more prosperous 2010. Our reports come from volunteer local experts. We hope you’ll find them useful. If your area is not included, and you’d like to contribute next year, please e-mail email@example.com, and we’ll be in touch next fall.
• April frost caused some damage.
• Decreased winery demand caused price dip.
Winter was fairly typical, with average rainfall. A frost event in April resulted in some damage. An overall cool spring and summer gave good hang time, developing flavors without excessive acid respiration.
Ripening was slightly behind average, due to both the cool weather and slightly higher yields. A slight lull in ripening in late September was quickly dispatched by a four-day heat spike that resulted in lots of fruit ripening all at once. It was good to get much of the fruit off then, because the remnants of typhoon Melor swept through the area Oct. 13 and 14, dropping almost 2 inches of rain and buffeting the vines with 40-plus mph winds. After drying out for a few days, the fruit showed a drop in degrees Brix, then quickly rebounded.
Prices started out firm, but as the season progressed, higher yields along with a reduction in winery demand caused prices to dip. There were no major issues with either transportation or labor availability. Initial assessment of the harvest showed high quality, making wines of good color and varietal character. Looking forward to a wet winter and a happy 2010.
Board of Directors chair
Amador Vintners Association
Winemaker, Montevina/ Terra d’Oro
• Southern Hemisphere imports caused Chardonnay demand to bottom out.
• Water issues in the Sacramento Delta cost growers time, effort and money.
The Clarksburg AVA enjoyed a very good 2008 season, with crop volume slightly above average and excellent quality for the fruit. Spring weather was good, with occasional rains. Bud break occurred in March and April, and veraison took place between July and mid-August, depending on variety.
The summer progressed with mild weather and average or below-average temperatures, which helped the grapes mature slowly. Mildew pressure was higher than normal. No new pest problems were noted.
Harvest got off to a slow start around mid-September and lasted until the first weeks in November, interrupted by a heavy rain in October. Available tank space was the main issue this year. Several growers had to hold sending grapes for lack of processing capacity.
The bottom fell out of the market for Chardonnay, due to high volume of bulk wine from the Southern Hemisphere. This hurt un-contracted sellers with extremely low prices, and some fruit went unharvested or to juice.
The Clarksburg AVA enjoyed several new plantings this year, mostly of Pinot Noir. Plantings are estimated to have exceeded 500 acres. A large winery in the area also broke ground on a new processing facility.
On the legal side, we had many changes this year due to being the center of the Sacramento River Delta, including levee decertification as a result of new FEMA mapping. The California Legislature passed several bills attempting to address a number of water issues in the state, including an $11 billion bond issue that will go before voters. In addition, the California Department of Water Resources is attempting to get entry permits to many of our vineyards for environmental impact reports addressing potential construction of a 1,400-foot-wide canal through our district.
All of these challenges have cost growers huge amounts of money, time and uncertainty. We remain united and optimistic we can defeat these misguided initiatives.
Clarksburg Wine Growers and Vintners Association
LAKE AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES
• Water for frost protection was available thanks to a concerted effort in 2008.
• Despite some ‘fire sale’ prices for uncontracted fruit, almost all was harvested.
Weather was once again a challenge for the 2009 vintage, which one grower described as “paranormal.” The growing season began with below-average rainfall in January, but February rain filled many small reservoirs that growers depend on for irrigation and frost protection. Surface water supplies were tight, and everyone was concerned we would not have enough water for both frost protection and irrigation.
Bud break started late, and spring was cool overall. Fortunately, it was not a particularly frosty spring, and most vineyards were not impacted by freezing damage. A well-timed storm at the beginning of May gave soil profiles a nice moisture boost—very helpful for the expanding grape canopies.
Bloom overall was somewhat late, cool and long in most areas. Crop set was variable due to cool temperatures and wind. Most varieties set well, but there were some exceptions. There was a light Merlot set. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay set fairly well in Anderson Valley.
In Lake County, Cabernet Sauvignon set a smaller crop than expected in many vineyards. On the other hand, Zinfandel set big crops in many vineyards due to a light crop the previous year (frost damage). This caused some delayed harvest and rot problems.
Summer was not exceptionally warm. June had foggy morning weather that extended inland to the Ukiah Valley. Occasional drizzle and clouds created fungal pressure, requiring close attention to mildew control programs.
There were few “heat storms,” when weather goes to triple digits for several days. Most growers were able to manage their limited water supplies effectively, and canopies remained in good condition until harvest. Dry-farmed vineyards faced some challenges, given the successive drought years; many had low yields but great quality.
Harvest came on slowly and gradually in late August. Fruit for sparkling wine was clean with good acidity; yields were more satisfactory than last year’s short crop. Yields were between slightly below average and normal.
Fruit quality across the board was very good. There were several hot spells at the end of August and the end of September that caused spikes in harvest activity. The late September heat was particularly difficult, with triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and a visit by “the Raisin Fairy” in many vineyards.
The more inland, the more pronounced the heat and dryness. Lake County vineyards were particularly hot and dry—many endured 107ºF and 0% humidity. Sugar-points jumped quickly, but surprisingly, the fruit maintained pretty good acidity.
A cold front passed through the state during the first week of October. A few vineyards in low areas were damaged by frost, losing some of their foliage. Fortunately, damage overall was minimal. The cool temperatures also slowed harvest that week, but then activity picked up as another warming trend occurred.
By the second week of October, nearly 80% of the fruit had been picked in most areas. That was a good thing, because the remnants of a tropical storm hit California on Oct. 13, with significant precipitation in both Lake and Mendocino counties; rainfall totals varied between 2 and 3 inches. Some growers lost crops, particularly rot-prone varieties like Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Thicker-skinned varieties such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon came through better, although quality in some instances was a bit compromised. Since forecasters gave everyone some warning, growers and wineries raced around-the-clock to bring in as much fruit as they could.
As wineries sorted out the harvest, the first impression was that the wines from 2009 are going to be good. Whites were mostly picked before the rain, had a good balance of sugar and acidity, and were free of mold and sunburn. White wines are turning out particularly well. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are especially good this year, according to many local winemakers.
Red wines also are starting out well. The relatively mild summer and limited moisture created balanced canopy and crop loads, and skin tannins were quite mature even at lower Brix levels of 23º to 24º. Color has been exceptional in many lots. Petite Sirah may be the vintage of the decade, according to some winemakers. There has been a minimal amount of “veggie” flavor from methoxypyrazines associated with too much canopy vigor, which poses a problem in the Bordeaux varieties during some years.
There were few major disease or insect problems in most areas. Organic and Biodynamic certified vineyard acreage continues to grow in the two counties, and there are buyers actively sourcing fruit.
Growers along the Russian River were challenged to conserve water following an aggressive move by both the National Marine Fishery Service and California Fish and Game to protect juvenile salmonids by stopping any water diversions. Following the death of some fish during a particularly frosty night in April 2008, these agencies pressured the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to ban the use of surface water for frost protection in the Russian River Watershed. Local growers, the Mendocino Farm Bureau, Fish Friendly Farming, the Russian River Flood Control District and the author all made a concerted effort to educate the SWRCB and other resource agencies that, given the intensity of frost events, the only effective way to protect area vines was with overhead sprinklers.
Educational efforts included a special meeting in Sacramento to successfully argue for continued use of Russian River water for frost protection as a recognized “beneficial use of a public trust resource.” New reservoirs are being constructed, allowing growers to divert water when the river is at peak flow, so that salmonids are less likely to be stranded when frost pumps all are running during low flows, when there is a great need for frost protection water.
The most challenging aspect of the grapegrowing business this year was falling prices and demand—especially for high-end fruit. Spot market prices fell dramatically, and there was a lot of predatory bottom-feeding pricing. Wineries were not buying as much fruit as usual: Their strategy is to minimize expensive inventory.
Consequently growers were faced either with custom-crushing fruit to sell on the bulk market, or selling at much lower than normal prices. Some growers who sold fruit for more than $3,000 per ton during previous seasons sold for less than $1,000 per ton this year. Many growers without contracts selling into the spot market had a financially challenging season. Surprisingly, though, few vineyards were left unpicked, and growers managed to find homes for most fruit, even though they took “fire sale” prices in some instances.
Winegrowing and plant science advisor
UC Cooperative Extension
• Rain increased crop load by 10%.
• Grape prices also rose after cool summer.
Slightly more than average rainfall increased our crop load by 10% across the board. Cool spring brought bud break the third week of March for the early ripening varieties, and first week of April for the late-ripening grapes. Veraison happened the first week of July for the early birds, and third week of July for the late-ripening varieties.
Summer was very cool with two heat-spikes. Overall cool temperatures for the duration of the summer months didn’t start heating up until late August
Our vineyard is Biodynamically farmed; we use owls that nest in the vineyard for pest control, and they work very well. Livermore Valley AVA was lucky enough to dodge all of the smoke from the local wildfires.
Our harvest was anywhere between one week and three weeks late, depending on the varieties. A very f reak rainstorm really slowed down the late ripeners, but we were lucky enough to get some heat right afterwards to finish off the Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot nicely.
Prices have climbed to about $1,600 per ton average as the demand has climbed; availability is down slightly. We planted a small, 1-acre experimental vineyard, and no vines were pulled out to my knowledge.
I look forward next year to increases in production, quality, price and demand by at least 10%.
• A seemingly normal growing season produced fruit of exceptional quality.
• Sustainable practices have helped growers increase their prices.
After a late spring followed by a couple of weeks when temperatures approached the 100ºF mark in much of the San Joaquin Valley, all indicators were pointing toward an early harvest. With some growers and wineries predicting crush to be two to three weeks ahead of averages, many were relieved when bud break, veraison and harvest all clustered around the seasonal averages for the valley. Harvest in Madera County began the first week of August, with some of the early white sparkling winegrapes and Zinfandel for White Zin and some blush programs.
It turned out to be a year where everything seemed to be normal, and quality—despite always claiming it is great—really was up. There is a renewed push by growers in Madera County toward sustainable farming practices. Embracing the “three E” trilogy of Socially Equitable, Environmental and Economical principles, quality and grapes prices are up for a number of varieties in the Madera County area.
After a number of years that had seen numerous acres of vineyards removed in favor of almond orchards, there is evidence of new grape planting throughout the county. Demand for Madera fruit has substantially increased due to grape quality, balanced with a positive cost-value dynamic.
Established just four years after the first American Viticultural Area, the Madera AVA is one of the oldest in California. One of the more recent winery groups, the Madera Vintners Association continues to increase its winery membership and promote the grapes and wineries of the Madera appellation.
MARIPOSA AND MERCED COUNTIES
• Variable conditions, but overall smooth growing season reported.
• All blocks of Merced grapes were sold this year.
In Mariposa County, local conditions were variable. At one winery, frost caused a little damage. Daytime temperatures resulted in a balanced growing season. Local wineries were pleased overall with the grapes coming in. No major problems with pests or diseases (excepting the usual wildlife issues). Rain on Oct. 6 caused a delay in harvest by a day or two.
Yields were up slightly. No significant changes in acreage. We do have a planting of cider apples in the works, which should add nicely to the wine trail.
In Merced County, how the year went depended on whom you talked to. The late rains caused some damage to a few growers, with some blocks downgraded to lower-valued programs. The big variations in temperature leading up to harvest caused some problems with color and fruit getting soft for a few growers. Others did just fine.
Crop loads were average to a little less than average. No big problems with diseases this year, and no signs of the latest imported pests. Acreage is not increasing or decreasing appreciably. All blocks were sold this year. There were some shortages of mechanical harvesters in the county. We could use another local custom harvesting company.
UC Cooperative Extension
MONTEREY, SAN BENITO AND SANTA CRUZ COUNTIES
• Growers rushed to bring grapes in prior to October rains, but most yields were close to average.
• Some new vineyard developments were planted.
The 2009 growing season started with very cool spring temperatures, which delayed vine development and created the potential for a delayed season. There was also some temporary delayed growth on vines that were exposed to the early fall frost of 2008.
Temperatures were warm, and variable weather through the bloom period produced some variability in fruit set by both variety and location. An extended warm period in late August and early September advanced grape maturation, and the bulk of the harvest was done during September and October.
When the mid-October rains dropped anywhere from 1 to 6 inches on Central Coast vineyards, a substantial amount of grapes had not been harvested. The storm was well predicted, and growers and wineries accelerated harvest schedules to record levels to crush fruit prior to the rain.
After the rain, the weather remained humid, and there was some increase in rot problems. A higher level of rain-induced rot problems was avoided because rot levels prior to the rain were very low, and much of the crop was picked very quickly after the storm. There was some reduction in sugar levels after the rains as fruit rehydrated from the rainfall.
Yields were variable among vineyards and varieties. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were close to average levels, although some vineyards had above-average yields. Most other varieties fluctuated close to average levels. Some yield loss occurred due to rain damage and extended hang time both before and after the rain. The market for non-contracted fruit was soft, with buyers showing very conservative activity.
Initial indications from winemakers are that wine quality looks good. There were very few powdery mildew or insect-related problems during 2009. The light brown apple moth quarantine areas and the spread of vine mealybug continue to concern growers.
Some new vineyard developments were planted in 2009. Any future vineyard developments will be dependent on the influence of the national economy on wine demand and pricing. The lack of contracts or improvements in grape pricing will delay future vineyard development.
UC Cooperative Extension
• An extremely mild year favored flavor development , but fostered powdery mildew.
• A new invasive pest, European grapevine moth, made its first American appearance.
In Napa, late-spring rains made early season weed management challenging but provided a nice cushion of soil moisture for vines to start the season. There were no unusually severe frost events following bud break.
Unseasonably warm weather initiated bloom but was followed by unseasonably cool weather that extended the bloom period as much as a month in some regions. As a consequence, some areas suffered set problems, while others set normally.
The generally cool weather persisted throughout the season, resulting in an extremely mild year. This favored flavor development in fruit, but resulted in abnormally high powdery mildew disease pressure. Virus symptom expression (especially leafroll virus) was also mild and extremely delayed, with some vines not expressing severe symptoms until well after harvest.
The cool temperatures delayed vine development for the season an average of seven to 10 days. A somewhat late harvest was then artificially accelerated due to early rains and humidity that brought the risk of bunch rots. Toward the end of harvest, the newly introduced European grapevine moth (Lobesia botrana) was reported from Napa County vineyards. This is the first report of this moth in North America.
Monica L. Cooper?
Viticulture farm advisor & county director?
UC Cooperative Extension
SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY
• October rains caused some late-maturing grapes to remain on the vine.
• Most growers received slightly decreased prices.
The 2009 season marked the third year of drought. Again dry, cold winter conditions affected vine development, but crop yields were less impacted, possibly due to relief from an unusual, heavy May rain. Rainfall total for the year was about 50% of average, and soil moisture was low as spring unfolded.
However, yields were 10% to 15% above average; in some sites with varieties such as Merlot and Syrah, yields were slightly higher. Other than a couple of brief hot spells during the summer, weather was moderate with a cool July and August. Fruit quality was very good with respect to flavors and acids, but less so in regard to color development.
Scattered leafhopper and spider mite problems did occur late season. The glassy-winged sharpshooter program has kept the area free of that threat, but vine mealybug (VMB) continues to spread, mostly from birds. Gophers and voles were more of a problem than normal. Light brown apple moth (LBAM) was found in the Manteca area, and spotted-wing drosophila (SWD) has also arrived in San Joaquin County.
Harvest began around Aug.19, seven to 10 days later than the long-term average. The pace began slowly, but it ramped up as most varieties seemed to achieve maturity at once. The above-average crop helped reduce severe scheduling problems, but it did cause some concerns for harvest and delivery.
A slight lull of maturity development in mid-September seemed to slow down most everything still in the field. A heavy rain Oct. 13 stopped harvest with about 85% to 90% of the acres then delivered. Rain in the north county averaged from 2.5 to 3 inches, while 1 to 1.5 inches fell in the south county. A majority of the remaining several thousand acres was brought in, but a few scattered acres were left unharvested. Some of the post-rain acres were picked with late harvest dessert style wines in mind, as humid conditions afterwards induced some “Noble Rot.” Harvest was finished by the end of October.
Grape prices were static at best, as most growers saw slight declines. The price range of grapes continues to be large, depending on variety, wine program and winery. There are now 75 wineries in the district.
Production costs still generally outpace grower returns on a long-term basis—about $450 per ton for cash costs. The familiar challenges remain and intensify: regulations, labor availability and consolidation at the producer, processor, wholesale and retail levels, along with the new concerns of an ailing economy and dysfunctional government. Local growers remain optimistic about competing for recognition and market share in 2010.
Paul S. Verdegaal
UC Cooperative Extension
SAN LUIS OBISPO AND SANTA BARBARA COUNTIES
• The third consecutive dry winter exacerbated groundwater problems.
• Growers rushed to harvest rot-prone varieties before the Oct. 13 storm.
The 2009 season began with a very dry winter again; this was the third consecutive season of drought conditions in the area. The spring weather was overall relatively cool and overcast, leading to delayed bud break and increased fungal disease pressure; incidence of powdery mildew was generally more severe than during the previous two seasons.
Due to unusually cool temperatures in late spring, the bloom period was extended, but fruit set was generally acceptable and much improved over the preceding season. An unusual rain fell in early June, with between 0.25 and 0.5 inches of precipitation recorded in many areas.
The summer temperatures were fairly moderate in most areas (particularly the more coastal areas) until early September, when much warmer temperatures arrived. This led to accelerated ripening of early varieties and much harvest activity in September; afterwards temperatures moderated and harvest activity slowed considerably.
There was a limited amount of freeze damage in early October, mostly observed in the cool areas west of Templeton. The extended drought has exacerbated the problem of some shallower groundwater wells going dry in the Paso Robles area. The large Oct. 13 storm delivered highly variable rainfall throughout the area. In San Luis Obispo County, the hills to the west of Paso Robles received nine or more inches, while Shandon to the east received less than one inch. Most areas in Santa Barbara County received between one and three inches.
Emphasis was placed on harvesting the more rot-prone varieties such as Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Petite Sirah before the arrival of the storm; plantings that were not harvested in time did suffer significant rot damage in many cases. More resistant varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon generally held up quite well through the storm. As of the second week of November, some lim ited harvest of varieties such as Grenache was still occurring, as many areas still had not seen a killing frost. Overall crop yields were average to slightly above; quality has been reported to be quite good.
As has been observed in other areas this year, the biggest difficulty for many growers has been to find buyers for their non-contracted fruit. A fair number of vineyards are on the market, mostly smaller operations.
UC Cooperative Extension
• An impressive crop found few buyers, low prices.
• October rains left some unpicked vineyard blocks consumed by bunch rot.
Growers will remember this season for the lack of buyers for a grape crop that had perfect growing conditions and impressive quality. Most growers had no problems meeting the challenges of rainfall—too little or badly timed—and high disease pressure, but the market was another story.
Wineries were not looking for fruit, and growers’ phone calls were not returned. An insignificant number of tons were sold in October. Yields were at or just above estimates, and wineries stuck to contract limits, which made it even harder to find a home for grapes. Although the vast majority of grapes were sold in 2009, compromises resulted in weaker prices. The majority of unsold fruit went to custom-crush facilities and a much smaller amount was left on vines.
It was a mild frost year compared to 2008; however, in April 2009, the State Water Resources Control Board considered banning the use of water for frost protection in the Russian River watershed—a threat that remains on the table for spring 2010 in order to ensure adequate springtime flows in the tributaries for outmigration of salmonid smolts.
Less than an inch of rain fell in January, normally the month with the greatest rainfall. February rainfall exceeded 8 inches in many areas, which allowed most—not all—growers to apply irrigation water as needed.
It was a cool year with daily minimum temperatures below 30-year average minimums. Low temperatures in May and June extended the bloom period and reduced fruit set—but not consistently—in several varieties and growing regions. Late in the season, maximum temperatures rarely broke 100ºF; thus tannins and flavors developed without the usual spike in Brix. Mild temperatures resulted in a “great mildew year,” and growers who were successful at staying ahead of the disease did so by shortening spray intervals and maximizing coverage.
Rainfall amounts forecast for the Oct. 13 storm inspired growers and wineries to get tons of ripe grapes of all varieties off the vines just ahead of the deluge. Santa Rosa received 3 inches that day, and Sonoma Valley and West County ranches logged nearly 2 inches more. Fruit that was too wet to pick kept crews out of vineyards until Oct. 16. Meanwhile, relative humidity was higher than daily maximum temperatures, creating muggy conditions perfect for Botrytis bunch rot.
Rainfall the following Monday was the final straw for some blocks: Their fruit was consumed by bunch rot. The rain caused sugar to drop an average of 2º Brix, and blocks were stalled several days before they could be harvested. Most of the remaining grapes were Cabernet Sauvignon with thicker skins, which slowed disease progression.
Growers had to sign compliance agreements with the agricultural commissioner’s office to move fruit at harvest if it was grown inside a light brown apple moth quarantine area. More than 20,000 acres of crops are in quarantine areas established when male moths were trapped. No larvae have been found in Sonoma County.
Viticulture farm advisor
UC Cooperative Extension
• A developing East Coast market brought salvation in a low-demand year.
• New plantings continued, and some Syrah was grafted to Albariño and Grenache Blanc.
Now that it has concluded, we can look back on the 2009 crop with mixed views of a growing season: Significant quality of grapes grown vs. limited demand for same. A confusing year to many, as balance was apparent but rendered meaningless by a serious national recession.
The growing season was exceptional, with minimal extremes in climate conditions from bud break to harvest. September presented some extended heat during the beginning of harvest, which only served to bring the reds back closer to normal picking dates. The white harvest began slightly later than normal, stalling until we entered September.
With all that said, there was something different in the vine activity that seems to have been related to the cool spring conditions and the possibility that certain nutrition uptakes were hindered in the very early going. It could be seen in subtle foliar expressions mid-season and the slower flavor development during sugar development in the harvest window. But when picked, the convergence of these to ripe berries with flavor was present as always.
Demand was the downside for any growers not locked into contracts covering this year, with the spot market a non-event. Long-term efforts of SVGGA to expand into East Coast markets significantly offset some of these issues, as developed relationships paid significant dividends. Internal demand for grapes accelerated as the growth in Suisun Valley-appellation wines continued to build. Regardless, Suisun Valley remains an export grower valley to producers in other parts of California.
There were several new plantings, the largest including Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese in specific response to demand being developed in East Coast markets. Several Syrah blocks have been targeted for graft-over to out-of-mainstream whites such as Albariño and Grenache Blanc, as the Syrah market took the toughest hits and is forecast to remain difficult.
As we look forward to 2010, the economic conditions of the nation are expected to remain the most influential factors in demand.
Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association
• Untimely freezes reduced yields to 2005 levels.
• Harvest was mostly complete in September, with fully developed flavors.
British Columbia winemake rs entered the 2009 growing season cautiously, knowing growers would struggle to produce the quality and quantity of fruit needed. A harsh winter delivered twin blasts of cold weather—one in October, before senescence, and another in late December. While the temperatures were good for ice wine production, spring brought reports of devastating losses to vineyards, particularly in the South Okanagan. Michael Bartier, winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards in Oliver, initially billed the season a grower’s vintage.
However, in many spots the damage wasn’t as bad as originally feared, and more recent tallies peg total crop losses at just 20%. Given a harvest last year of 22,275 tons and production of 15 million liters (about 4 million gallons), the losses set the industry back to 2005 production levels.
Hans Buchler, chair of the B.C. Wine Grape Council, believes this occurred at the best possible time. B.C. winegrape acreage is set to top 10,000 acres in 2010, pushing the limits of viability for the young region, especially as consumer taste for more expensive wine cools. (The average bottle of wine made from 100% B.C. grapes retails for about $18 domestically, which is where most sales happen; thanks largely to mark-ups, wineries see about $8 of that.)
When harvest began Sept. 1, grapes were showing the benefits of a July heatwave that accelerated development and a cool period afterward that allowed flavor development. Many wineries reported fruit ready earlier than usual, with fine September weather rounding out the flavors. This also limited the effect of a hard frost in early October that killed leaves but left grapes largely unscathed.
Wines & Vines Northwest correspondent
• Demand for Idaho grapes has increased since approval of the Snake River Valley AVA in 2007.
• Climate change is working in Idaho’s favor, and new varieties are being planted.
Overall, the harvest in Idaho was very successful. “We had a beautiful growing season with minimal rainfall,” said Dale Jeffers, Skyline Vineyards.
Winter was colder than usual, with normal snow cover for a high mountain desert. Bud break arrived two weeks late, during the third week of April. With consistent temperatures throughout the season and hardly any days over 100ºF, the weather provided ideal grapegrowing conditions. Climate change is really working in our favor. Idaho is now able to grow certain red varieties we never could before, because we now have enough growing degree-days. Pests are not a big problem here—another advantage to a high-mountain desert.
Harvest was two weeks late and yields slightly higher. We are expecting intense flavors due to the longer hang time. Ron Bitner from Bitner Vineyards said, “We foresee an excellent finish to the vintage because of the great acids.” The whites are looking exceptionally good. There was a slight cold spell during the middle of harvest, but it didn’t seem to disrupt the grapes too much, since temperatures heated right back up. Cabernet Sauvignon hit the right sugar levels.
Demand for grapes is up in Idaho, especially for the small lots. Vineyard owners are always planting new varieties to see what grows well. Skyline Vineyards tore out some Cabernet Sauvignon to plant Grenache and Petit Verdot, due to demand. Next year, Skyline plans to plant Tempranillo, Malbec and more Petit Verdot.
The vineyards have been put to bed for the year and are in great shape for the spring. We have ample water and are preparing for more demand. Since Idaho received AVA approval for the Snake River Valley in April 2007, the response from around the country has been amazing, and the demand for grapes has really gone up. In the past six months we’ve added six new wineries. Idaho is a hidden gem full of potential; it’s going be very exciting to see where it goes.
Idaho Grape Growers and Wine
• Despite varied conditions among Oregon’s several winegrowing regions, winemakers reported a quality vintage.
• Rainfall during harvest brought some Botrytis, but a subsequent heat spike dehydrated clusters.
Oregon winemakers reported plentiful yields in some areas, and the potential for a high quality vintage. Harvest continued into the third week of October for the Willamette Valley and Eastern Oregon; and through the end of October in Southern Oregon.
A predicted warm and dry harvest period gave way to cooler than expected conditions in late September and early October, but the majority of the fruit statewide was at or near its ripening plateau.
Rain events over the Labor Day and Columbus Day weekends did not negatively affect grape quality. Botrytis pressure was apparent but relatively low, and according to growers, easily sorted on the crushpad. A final heat spike at harvest dehydrated many clusters, reducing yields and concentrating flavors. Extended hang time was reported throughout the state, as growers and winemakers waited for optimal flavor development and ripeness to counter slightly elevated sugar levels.
In the Willamette Valley, according to Harry Peterson-Nedry at Chehalem: “This vintage is similar to 2002, with good weather during harvest and lots of fruit, therefore satisfying both winemakers and accountants. Flavors are mineral-accented, with no real overripe characters. Whites are typically white flower, spices and stone fruit in character, again with no overripeness showing. In general, Pinot Noirs will be flashy and spectacular this year, with good heat for phenolic ripeness, cool final ripening conditions the last three to four weeks to retain acidity, and yields that, although not excessive with appropriate crop thinning, give great wines in good quantity. Some early season heat in warmer sites contributed to a little Botrytis and desiccation.”
In Eastern Oregon’s Walla Walla Valley, “Weather was very dry, moderately warm with no rain in September,” reported Casey McClellan, Seven Hills Winery. “The valley received about an inch in early October, with minimal effects on quality. Picking was near 75% done when a severe frost event stopped further ripening Oct. 11 at most sites. Fortunately, this was a very ripe year already. Only very late varietals on very late sites will see quality affected. Yields were near normal for most vineyards. Tonnage will be slightly up for the valley over last year due to new acreage coming on line. I would say this is a ripe year; alcohols will be above average, with great structure and color. Nice forward fruit flavors and aromas.”
In Southern Oregon, Earl Jones at Abacela said, “It was an unusual harvest and did not follow my predictions of an early harvest. We started 10 days after our expected first pick and were in a picking frenzy. The sudden warmth during flowering had accelerated phenology on early, middle and late varieties, such that fruit maturity also occurred at the same time: thus the need to pick everything at once. Excellent (flavor profiles), with Tempranillo, Syrah and Albariño perfect.”
Marketing & communications director
Oregon Wine Board
• A cool spring, warm summer and early frost made for a unique growing season.
• The resulting crop was ripe and concentrated.
Weather during the 2009 growing season was unique, but still provided excellent conditions for producing exceptional quality fruit. Vineyards came out of winter in good condition, but cool spring temperatures delayed bud break one to two weeks.
Below-normal temperatures persisted until bloom, with few frost events and very little rainfall. These conditions delayed canopy development, resulting in smaller than normal canopies prior to bloom. However, at the onset of bloom, temperatures increased to above normal, a trend that continued until September. Hence, vines set ample fruit, and development increased so that veraison occurred during the normal time of mid-August.
As usual, there was very little rainfall during the growing season, calling for irrigation to maintain vine balance and stylize fruit quality. Small, concentrated berries were common in many red varieties. Optimal conditions continued into September, accelerating fruit ripening and elevating berry sugar levels.
Harvest began the first week of September, with most vineyards harvested earlier and/or at higher sugar levels than normal. Harvest was hampered by an early October freezing event one to two weeks earlier than normal. However, this had very little impact on fruit quality, because berries were already at or above adequate ripeness. Harvest was completed by the end of October.
The 2009 vintage in Washington will be remembered for its unique weather conditions (cool spring, very warm summer, and a short ripening period due to an early frost). As a result, canopy size was easily maintained and fruit ripening was accelerated, delivering very ripe and concentrated fruit at harvest.
Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers
• Sub-zero freezing last winter caused considerable bud damage.
• A record cool July was followed by near perfect ripening conditions.
The 2009 growing season was cooler and wetter than normal across much of the Midwest, similar to the 2008 season. The 2008-09 winter brought severe cold to parts of the region, with temperatures in the minus-20?F range in northern Indiana, and much colder to the west and north. That cold event caused considerable bud damage on the more cold tender varieties. Growers who made appropriate adjustments were able to produce partial to full crops despite the damage.
Spring was cool and wet, which delayed bud break and slowed development. The summer was cooler than normal, with July setting a record. August, September and October were warm and dry, with near perfect ripening conditions.
Harvest was about two weeks later than normal on some varieties, but because of the mild conditions, growers were able to fully ripen all varieties. There were some disease problems this year in regions that experienced excessive spring rains and where growers did not keep up with fungicide sprays. Downy and powdery mildew were both quite common this year, but manageable. Overall fruit quality was excellent, and diseases were not a major factor.
Demand for Indiana-grown grapes continues to outpace supply, which has led to a steady increase in acreage. Grape prices continue to be very strong across the region, with most varieties selling for about $1,000 per ton. Indiana currently has 43 wineries and several more are expected to open in the near future.
Wine production surpassed 800,000 gallons in 2008. Indiana wine production has experienced a 15% increase annually for the past 10 years. Nearly 10,000 people attend the Vintage Indiana Wine & Food Festival in June each year. A recent economic survey showed that the Indiana wine industry contributes more than $72 million to the Indiana economy each year. For additional information about the Indiana wine industry, please visit indianawines.org.
Bruce Bordelon, Ph.D.
• A wet spring encouraged black rot, Phomopsis and downy mildew.
• New acreage was planted to Norton, Noiret, Traminette, Crimson Cabernet and Cabernet Franc.
After a relatively mild winter with plenty of moisture, Kansas vineyards entered the spring in good condition. The winter wanted to hang on, and gave us a cooler and wetter-than-normal spring: This resulted in a late bud break in late April to mid-May. Some areas received late frosts, but because bud break had not occurred, there was no adverse effect on the vines.
Because of the wet spring it was hard to maintain the spray schedule and control black rot and Phomopsis cane and leaf spot, and in some cases downy mildew. Some portions of the state had severe storms with hail and high winds that damaged the crop and the vineyards.
Summer produced excellent, timely rainfall of 1-2 inches, with below normal temps and only four or five days over 100°F. Some vineyards experienced heavy bird pressure, which led to insect, fungus and mold problems; some lost up to 30% because of this. We’re still seeing effects of the 2007 spring freeze, with 5% vine dieback. Most areas of the state received record or near-record rainfall. With the cool summer, veraison was about 10 days late.
Cool, wet weather persisted into the harvest season, whic h spread out or delayed harvest and caused some loss of crop because of fruit dropping off. Powdery mildew was a problem, and in some cases harvest projections were down some 75%. The daytime highs never got over 90°F. Prices seemed to stay the same as 2008.
New acreage was planted this year with Noiret, Traminette, Crimson Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Norton varieties, to list just a few. Several new wineries opened this year, and more are working to open in 2010. Wineries can now ship to consumers, and have the option to sell at farmers markets.
Research and development
Kansas Grape Growers & Wine Makers
• Some say the cool year of 2009 was the worst grapegrowing season they can recall.
• Seven new wineries opened, and new plantings are expected to increase total vineyard acreage by 5%.
A cold snap in February 2009 did a small amount of damage to many varieties in extreme Southwest Michigan. The rest of the state had no unusual winter weather. In most regions of the state, veraison was two to three weeks late.
Summer was unusually cool: Some say the worst growing season they can remember; but we’ve heard of no unusual or especially difficult pest pressure. We had our lowest number of growing degree-days in 14 years. Frost in early October also damaged some varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon and Vidal Blanc were especially affected, as they have a longer growing season. Excess rain in October resulted in greater incidence of fruit rot.
Harvest was late in all areas of the state; yield was slightly down in both the northern and southern regions due to winter damage. White wines are expected to have good complexity due to late season hang time in good weather. Red wines may be more challenging for winemakers, as the grapes did not get the desired ripening time.
New vineyard plantings will likely increase acreage by another 5%; however, we will not have a new survey of acreage until the USDA NASS Rotational Fruit Survey in 2010. Seven new wineries came on line in 2009, all using predominantly Michigan fruit.
The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council has established a goal to increase the size of the industry to 10,000 winegrape acres by the year 2024 (current acreage is approximately 2,000 acres). The council awarded a total of $20,000 in grants to regional groups of wineries and the International Riesling Foundation to support marketing objectives of the industry.
Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council
• A cool, wet season delayed harvest and increased Botrytis bunch rot.
• Yields were reduced because of last year’s huge crop.
The 2008-09 winter season was relatively mild, with temperatures only dropping below 0°F on a few occasions, primarily in the northern part of the state. Budburst was about a week later than normal; however, there was some minor frost damage, mainly in low-lying vineyards. Frost protection in Missouri is based primarily on proper site selection, and the effectiveness of this strategy was evident in those cases where frost injury did occur.
The 2009 growing season was marked by much milder than normal temperatures and heavy, frequent precipitation throughout most of the season. Temperatures remained in the 80s and lower 90s for most of the growing season. As in 2008, the abundant precipitation led to a very high level of disease pressure, particularly for black rot and downy mildew, although growers managed to keep disease incidence at a relatively low level through appropriate adjustments in spray programs. Botrytis bunch rot, which we typically do not see in Missouri because of the heat, was more prevalent in some vineyards in 2009, due to the cooler temperatures and wet weather. Drier, sunny weather prevailed in the post-veraison period, providing good ripening conditions for the 2009 crop, particularly the earlier-ripening cultivars.
The very mild temperatures throughout most of the season delayed crop development. The beginning of the harvest season began in very late August or early September, rather than mid-August, as is usual. The larger than normal crops in 2008 resulted in reduced flower and fruit cluster numbers in most varieties, particularly Norton, but overall the crop size was near normal.
The harvest of late-ripening varieties such as Chambourcin and Norton continued to the end of October, due to rapidly cooling conditions in late September to early October that delayed ripening of these cultivars. The large crop in 2008 and the wine produced from it resulted in many tons of fruit being available for sale in 2009, but by the end of the harvest season most of the crop had been sold. Price information is unavailable at this time, and we do not know how much prices were affected by grape availability.
Industry growth is still continuing, and new vineyards are being established. No vineyards have been reported as going out of business, and the only blocks pulled are being replanted. New wineries continue to open in the state and more are being planned for the future.
Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology
University of Missouri, Columbia
• Spring frosts reduced crops of Sangiovese and Chardonnay.
• Many grapes were shipped out-of-state; supplies remain in surplus.
The 2009 growing season started promisingly. By the end of February, little winter damage could be detected and bud break started in some locations the first week of March. Four frost events in March and April would lead to a quick crop thinning: Sangiovese and Chardonnay were most afflicted.
Due to a unique geographic location, the southern part of New Mexico can get winter storms from the west, north or the east. However, in 2009, none of these storms reached the Rio Grande Valley in the south central part of the state around Las Cruces, and no damaging frost was recorded after the end of February.
Insect pressure (thrips and grape leaf hoppers) became high early during the growing season. With no major weather events during the growing season, grapes developed well and harvest started at the end of July in some southern locations. There is a clear trend to harvest some varietie s at lower sugar before physiological maturity to preserve a different flavor profile that is more appealing to consumers.
In the higher elevations of Northern New Mexico, harvest concluded during the later part of October. Overall the New Mexico grape yield for 2009 was average with good quality; this was aided by little rainfall during harvest season.
A large boost for New Mexico grapes and wine came with the award Southwest Wines received at the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition: Southwest’s Cabernet Franc won in the “Red Sweepstakes” category. But with the current economic difficulties, demand and prices for grapes softened significantly.
A significant portion of the harvest was shipped out-of-state. New wineries are still developing, but currently there is an oversupply of grapes and processing capacity, and market development need to catch up. For more information on New Mexico viticulture, visit viticulture.nmsu.edu.
Extension viticulture specialist
New Mexico State University
• An extreme January freeze damaged labrusca grapes in the Grand River Valley.
• Ohio hopes to start a pilot “vine grant” program to encourage planting.
Ohio has three distinct growing regions: southwest Ohio (Ohio River Valley appellation—ORV); north central Ohio, and the very northeast corner (Grand River Valley appellation—GRV), the latter two within the greater Lake Erie appellation.
Kenny Joe Schuchter of Valley Vineyards (ORV) reports a generally good season. Winter temperatures never dropped below minus-4°F, so winter damage was minimal. There was no significant spring frost damage. Bud break was normal, but a very cool summer resulted in harvest beginning about 10 days later than usual. Fruit picked in the first 30 days (August through mid-September) came in both with excellent quality and good quantities.
Other than Japanese beetles, no serious pests impacted the year. However, an unusually cool and wet period from mid-September through October, followed by an Oct. 15 hard frost, shortened the ripening period for several reds.
A half-dozen new, small plantings by individual growers in southwest Ohio went into the ground in 2009. Several additional small plots are planned for 2010. Most of these are designed to support small, soon-to-open family wineries.
Lee Klingshirn in north central Ohio also reported a mild winter and normal spring with only limited frost damage in vinifera and hybrids. However, labrusca, with their single primary bud, were hit hard in mid-May. A sunny, warm early summer was followed by significant rain and cooler temperatures, resulting in a harvest about two weeks later than normal. Some of the vineyards did see disease pressure from downy mildew. White winegrapes fared well, however a mid-October frost shortened the season for reds.
Nick Ferrante from GRV reports that an extreme mid-January two-night episode with temperatures of minus-16°F resulted in a one-third loss of total crop load for the year. It was even too cold to use the wind machines that in prior years had made a significant difference. A hard spring frost that severely damaged labruscas used for juice and some local wines, had an impact, but a less significant one on hybrids and vinifera that remained. The exception was one winery in the Conneaut Creek region that suffered a 90% vinifera-hybrid loss from the combined winterkill and heavy, very late spring frost/freeze at its site.
June and July were extra rainy, but a fairly warm and reasonably dry August and September, along with the winter-kill-reduced crop resulted in very good fruit quality and good quantity. Ferrante’s winery and several others in the region continue to expand plantings of cool climate varieties to meet the ever-increasing tourism traffic.
None of the winegrowers reported any unusual threats or governmental issues on the horizon. Our university research programs continue to be squeezed by the state’s general budget crises. The state of Ohio is looking to launch a pilot “vine grants” program to assist the planting of a few new acres in 2010-11.
Ohio Wine Producers Association
• Grape yields were off by about 25% from normal.
• Harvest was wet and cool in central Oklahoma, preventing some red varieties from ripening fully.
The Oklahoma viticulture industry is a relatively small but growing sector of the state economy; the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture reported a total of 261 farms with 597 acres of grapes. About 55 wineries are scattered across the state. Oklahoma has 11 ecologically distinct regions, leading to wide variations in growing conditions and varieties planted.
Growing conditions this year were hampered by a late, Easter weekend freeze. Professor Andrew Snyder of Redlands Community College and president of the Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association, estimates grape yields were off by about 25% from normal. However, the quality of the crop was generally good in the western part of the state.
Oklahoma’s notoriously variable weather extended beyond the Easter freeze; near drought conditions existed until about the third week in March, with bud break around this time.
This was followed by up to 6 inches of snow at the end of March, and a cooler-than-normal spring. July brought 10 days of 100°F-plus days, some as high as 108°F in the central part of the state. Veraison varied from the first to the third week of July, and harvest started around the first week of August through the end of September.
Harvest was hampered by unusually cool and wet weather throughout August and September, though pickers welcomed relief from the heat. Richard Kennedy, president of Lincoln County Grape Growers Association and owner of Tres Sueños Winery, indicated there was too much late rain in the central part of the state for the reds to achieve full ripeness. “Zinfandel was especially affected by the rain. The earlier grapes such as the Seyval Blanc, Orange Muscat and Muscat Canelli were not affected, nor were Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay. Chambourcin and Cynthianna were two reds that showed the most promise for our region.”
In spite of all the rain in August and September, rainfall only approached normal levels; just the timing was off. These conditions, combined with a few hailstorms and tornadoes, continue to make Oklahoma viticulture interesting. Each time we swirl a wineglass, we see a little bit of our tornadic terroir captured in the bottles of our wine.
The Oklahoma state legislature voted to fund up to $350,000 per year from the state Department of Commerce for establishing a Viticulture and Enology Center on the campus of Redlands Community College. Funding will start in 2010.
Harry Flynn, Ph.D.
Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association
• Late frost, hail and drought kept the overall harvest down by about 50%.
• Demand still outstrips supply; the state provided grants for expanded vineyard acreage.
A mild winter led to somewhat early bud break in 2009, followed by freeze events that caused damage throughout most of the state. The Texas High Plains had a low of 23oF on March 27, causing widespread injury to young shoots and swollen buds of many different varieties. However, delayed pruning and double-pruning strategies used by some High Plains vineyards were successful in postponing budbreak and obtaining full crops of Tempranillo, Vermentino and a few other varieties.
Several vineyards in the Hill Country employed sprinkler irrigation for frost protection, with varying success. Low dewpoint and windy conditions coincided with freezing temperatures, requiring high volumes of water application for effective protection. Secondary bud fruitfulness was notable among several varieties on the High Plains, including Viognier, Syrah and Zinfandel.
Growing season weather was unusually hot and exceptionally dry in much of the state; the Hill Country and Gulf Coast regions experienced a second consecutive year of severe drought. Some Hill Country vineyards reported dry wells and inability to irrigate. The High Plains and West Texas enjoyed near average temperatures and only below-normal rainfall, but hailstorms severely damaged crops in several vineyards. Overall dry weather in the state resulted in few fungal disease problems.
Fruit quality varied from average to good in the Hill Country and North Texas, although some exceptional fruit was harvested from Viognier, Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in North Texas. Gulf Coast fruit quality was very good for both Blanc du Bois and Black Spanish. Fruit quality on the High Plains was generally good, with very good quality from Tempranillo, Viognier and Vermentino.
Overall, the Texas crop was down about 50% due to crop losses from late frost and hail, and lower cluster weights due to drought. Heavy demand coupled with crop losses due to weather contributed to the chronic undersupply of grapes that is maintaining strong prices.
New acreage continues to be planted everywhere, especially in the High Plains and Hill Country. A vineyard incentive program sponsored by the Texas Department of Agriculture provided grants for new and expanded vineyard acreage in 2009.
Two favorable legal changes occurred in 2009. Texas wineries are now allowed to sell wine by the taste, glass or bottle at festivals and farmers markets. Another new law permits wineries to produce brandy and sell it to other wineries in the state.
The outlook for 2010 is promising; many recently planted vineyards will be coming into production. Texas now has more than 190 wineries and several more under construction or in planning stages, indicating industry expansion will continue for at least the next few years.
Viticulture extension specialist
Contributions by regional viticulture advisors: Penny Adams, Fran Pontasch, Fritz Westover
• A January freeze caused as much as 45% bud mortality on vinifera vines.
• New vineyards were planted, and three vineyards obtained winery permits.
A significant freeze event occurred Jan. 15-17, 2009. Many areas experienced the coldest temperatures in years. Bud mortality ranged from light to 45% on vinifera cultivars. However, except for more blind primary nodes than usual, the effects on the growing season were minimal.
Spring and early summer were cooler and much wetter than normal. Bud burst was seven to 10 days later than normal, and this delayed phenology persisted throughout the growing season. A few areas experienced hail early in the growing season. Wet weather persisted through much of June and July. Downy mildew needed to be aggressively controlled due to environmental conditions.
Most of August was relatively warm and dry. The weather from veraison through harvest was also fairly dry for the area; most significant rain events were followed by days of breezy, clear weather. The first autumn frost was relatively late in most areas, allowing growers to let fruit hang as long as desired. Fruit quality was generally very good, considering the challenges of the growing season. However, much of the fruit had both high pH and high total acidity, which was typical throughout the East this year.
The farm winery industry in Connecticut, while small, continues to expand, with several new vineyards planted in 2009 and three established vineyards obtaining their winery licenses. This expansion is expected to continue, although possibly at a reduced pace due to the economic slowdown. State government continues to be supportive of the industry. The legislature passed new regulations allowing an annual wine festival to be held in August, and funding for the Farm Wine Development Council continued in spite of budgetary constraints.
William R. Nail, Ph.D.
Assistant scientist II
Department of Forestry and Horticulture
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
• A wet, chilly spring and cool summer inhibited ripening.
• A yellow jacket invasion cost some growers tons of grapes.
A cold, rainy, windy December ushered in the 2009 season. January was cold and sleety, February cold, but with little precipitation. A big snowstorm got March off to a wintery start, but in spite of this, the first three months of 2009 brought record dryness.
April, May and June were wet and chilly; July and August were fairly normal weather-wise, but without th e high temperatures needed to encourage ripening of the fruit. September followed suit, and initial Brix and pH readings showed slow progress. October was cool, with off-and-on rains.
Pest problems were again minimal for the most part. Deer and bird damage was sporadic—heavy in some regions, minor in others. Japanese beetles were again conspicuously absent, but the multicolored Asian lady beetles (MALB) were abundant in late season.
Bees were much more prolific this year, especially yellow jackets, with white grape varieties seemingly their primary targets. Some growers measured their losses in tons.
Heavy foliage growth, largely from secondary shoots, necessitated much leaf pulling and shoot thinning. A lot of downy mildew appeared throughout the region, while powdery mildew was spottier. The bee incursion acerbated (or was acerbated by) late-season rots, forcing an early harvest of some varieties before proper maturity was achieved. Growers had to be vigilant about rotating spray materials, and they were faced with increased frequency of sprays and/or extended spray seasons. Weed proliferation was the worst in years. Many growers opted for later than normal harvest dates, hoping for much-needed heat that never came.
Sugars and pHs were low across the board. Otherwise, the fruit quality was, for the most part, reasonably good. Cluster counts and sizes were down on most varieties, and harvest loads were accordingly lower than normal.
Federal and local budget cuts continue to wreak havoc with the vineyard-establishment incentives initiated several years ago. Winery growth continues in spite of the slowdown in grape production, and increased attention is being given to less-well-known varieties such as Albariño, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Barbera and Montepulciano. A conservative approach still applies to bottle closures, the exceptions being one winery using boxes, and another replacing corks with Zorks.
Maryland Grape Growers Association
NEW YORK: FINGER LAKES
• Growers and winemakers made the best of a challenging year.
• Harvest was as much as three weeks later than normal, but absence of bunch rots allowed the extended hang time.
The 2009 growing season certainly would fall under the “challenging” category for the Finger Lakes. Cooler than normal temperatures for much of the season, combined with what felt like almost constant rain for part of the summer, meant that growers had to pull out all the stops to get to harvest with good quality fruit.
In the end, many were able to do so. On top of the difficulties of this year’s growing conditions, the industry also faced a difficult market situation, with a number of buyers scaling back on their purchases or cancelling them altogether, plus lower prices for most varieties compared to last year.
After dry weather and normal temperatures in April and May, June and July brought above-average rainfall and cool temperatures that made vineyard management tasks more difficult, from maintaining adequate spray coverage to dealing with vigorous canopies. The cool, wet weather came during the later portion of the bloom period, which resulted in below-average fruit set in some vineyards on certain varieties, but did not appear to have a major impact on the region overall.
The sun returned in late August and September, helping the vineyards to dry out. Harvest went smoothly for most growers picking earlier varieties. The dry weather also helped to keep bunch rot diseases like Botrytis and sour rot in check throughout harvest.
Fruit chemistry was basically what would be expected in a cooler than normal year—lower Brix and higher acidity. Many growers made multiple passes through blocks of red vinifera varieties like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc to reduce cropload and encourage ripening in the remaining fruit. Brix accumulation was almost two weeks behind normal this year, and some wineries reported picking varieties as much as three weeks later than normally.
While any overall assessment of wines produced from a growing season can’t be made until the wines are released (or even later), early comments from winemakers are positive with regard to the quality in this year’s fruit, despite all of the difficulties. The lack of bunch rots helped in decisions to let fruit hang longer to develop flavors and reduce acid as much as possible. Winemakers have been finding good to excellent varietal flavors in most white varieties, including Riesling, Gewürtztraminer and Traminette, as well as Pinot Noir.
Years like this are typically more of a struggle for reds, but winemakers and growers alike continue to make strides in creating very good quality wines out of what might be considered lesser quality years, so we will have to wait and see what will come out of the cellars during the next one or two years.
Viticulture extension specialist
Finger Lakes Grape Program
Cornell Cooperative Extension
NEW YORK: LONG ISLAND
• Excess vigor was a management challenge.
• Bud break and veraison were late, but harvest started early.
On Long Island, vineyards broke bud in late April to early May. Subsequent temperatures from May through July were below normal, leading to a delay in bloom of 10-14 days. Shoot growth through early summer was substantial due to abundant rainfall in June. Excess vigor was a management challenge in these months.
The combination of an extended period of rainfall and cool temperatures in June led to poor set in some varieties. Though there was great variability in crop level from block to block, Merlot was affected more than other varieties. Fortunately, August and September were slightly drier than the long-term average. They were also slightly cooler, leading to a delay in veraison of 10-14 days.
The period after veraison, however, was characterized by acceleration in the ripening process. Consequently, harvest started in mid-September, as it usually does with fruit for sparkling wine. Early harvest of white varieties started during the first week in October. Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and other aromatic whites displayed intense fruit flavors that were nicely balanced with acidity.
Merlot harvest continued from late October to early November, followed b y Cabernet Sauvignon in mid-November. With unusual and unexpected challenges, attention to detail in the vineyard definitely paid off this season. Winemakers have been pleased with the progression of fermentations. Though quantities are down in some varieties, there is great relief and satisfaction about the solid quality of fruit that was brought in this season.
Libby Tarleton and Alice Wise
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County
• A regional monitoring program helps growers schedule wind machine use.
• Multicolored Asian lady beetles were a concern during harvest.
The winter of 2008-09 was long and relatively kind, with average bud injury. A regional monitoring program to assess bud hardiness throughout the dormant season is in place and provides growers with advice on operation of wind machines to help mitigate winter freeze temperatures and for frost protection during spring and fall. An extension of the wind machine research project commenced in fall 2009, assessing vine and bud hardiness levels along with impact of cultural practices (led by CCOVI at Brock University). Ice wine harvest occurred in a timely fashion, and snowfall levels were around normal.
2009 may be considered the growing season that took forever to start and finish. Much of Ontario experienced a cool, damp spring and summer that slowed vine development; though some areas were dry for most of the season. Some minor frost episodes occurred in May and again in September/early October.
Bloom occurred later than the 10-year average and lasted approximately seven to 10 days longer, due to prolonged cool and damp conditions. Cooler-than-usual summer temperatures delayed veraison by about 14 to 21 days from a 10-year average.
The Niagara peninsula and eastern parts of Ontario had more frequent precipitation, with few stretches of dry weather until late summer. Southwestern Ontario had normal to slightly drier conditions. There were average pest problems in 2009 with powdery mildew, downy mildew and grape berry moth. Most growers achieved good control with monitoring and product selection. MALB continues to be a pest of concern for all grapegrowers, especially during the harvest period.
Harvest on all cultivars was extremely delayed, as acid levels remained high and weather conditions were not the best. In fact, many vineyards were still harvesting in late November (usually all harvest is wrapped up by the end of October) for normal wine production. Crop weights were lower than expected, especially in a wet year.
However, many vineyards had much lower production as processors demanded significant changes in production and tonnage. With processor cutbacks in purchases across all cultivars, there were few vineyards left for ice wine production in 2009-10. A large amount of grower “pre-cull” dropping of damaged or poor quality clusters took place prior to harvest on many cultivars. High moisture during the season led to large berries and tight clusters, but not high fruit weight at harvest.
Negotiated prices dropped in 2008, and processor/buyers cut back significantly on contracts and purchases. This left many growers with unsold fruit (some without any contracts) and resulted in a major review of grape and wine marketing to be undertaken in winter 2009-10.
Old vineyards are being removed as part of a government-sponsored program, and new vineyards continue to be planted despite current surplus crop position. A number of young vineyards have yet to reach full production. White and red vinifera continue to be planted. A number of new wineries have developed in the less-than-5,000-case category. Major processors did not contract any vineyards’ ice wine production for 2009.
Based on current vine health and plantings, 2010 could be a potential record harvest of wine grapes in Ontario. Surplus production continues to be an issue without a short-term solution. The government recently enacted new legislation for wine content and labeling that will have serious ramifications during the next few years. With more vineyards reaching full production, and replacement plantings and new vineyard planting continuing, tonnages will continue to increase for the next few years and will likely lead to price negotiation pressures for many cultivars.
Kevin W. Ker, Ph.D. (cand.), P.Ag.
Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI)
• A May freeze and wet spring brought increased disease pressure.
• Growing degree-days were drastically down, but the cool, dry fall allowed for a later harvest.
009 will be remembered as a challenging year to grow grapes in the Lake Erie region of Pennsylvania. In mid-May, the area was hit with a frost and a freeze event that ultimately limited the crop potential for the year. These were followed by wet, cool weather that hampered fruit set and eventually slowed the ripening process.
It seemed like it rained every other day during June and July. This made disease and weed management difficult. In July alone, we had more than 12 inches of rain at the Lake Erie Vineyard lab. Growers had to continually scout their vineyards to monitor disease pressure. Well-timed sprays were necessary to control downy mildew and black rot problems that resulted from all of the wet weather.
After veraison, some warm, dry weather kicked in for a couple of weeks and there seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Sugars began to accumulate and growers were feeling better about their chances. The nice weather didn’t hold, though, and cool, wet weather again became the norm. The slow accumulation of degree-days in late September and October made for difficult ripening conditions.
Even vineyards with light crops had trouble reaching industry quality standards. This was primarily caused by the May freeze that damaged primary buds. Clusters produced by later, secondary buds did not receive enough warmth and sun to ripen adequately.
The average number of growing degree-days each year is about 2,650 (April 1 to Oct. 31). This year we accumulated just 2,370. The cooler summer left us with many varieties that just didn’t reach their quality potential. Slightly lower sugars and higher acids seemed to be the norm. The wines that are made from this year& rsquo;s vintage should be respectable, though. The late, cool weather kept Botrytis and bunch rots in check. Growers were able to wait on their harvest and allow some varieties to further ripen.
John F. Griggs
The Lake Erie Regional Grape
Research and Extension Center
Penn State University
• Conditions varied wildly across the state.
• Total harvest was about 10% lower than normal.
Virginia’s vineyards fared well during the 2008-09 winter, only briefly and anxiously brushing critical temperatures on the morning of Jan. 16, when northern Virginia vineyards posted temperatures in the 0° to minus-5°F range. Budbreak, which we’ve noticed advancing during the past 10 or more years, was at about the average date recorded in the early 1990s.
The drier-than-normal winter reversed direction shortly after bud break, and most areas of the state experienced above-average rainfall between bud break and bloom—nearly 6 inches fell during this period in Winchester (northern Shenandoah Valley). Wet-weather disease pressure (phomopsis in particular) was increased, but growers who recognized the threat, and used appropriate management practices, generally came through with clean fruit and foliage. Persistent rains around bloom may have been partly to blame for a higher-than-usual incidence of early bunch stem necrosis and scattered reports of poor fruit set, particularly in the central part of the state. A late (May 18-20) cold event, just prior to bloom in some vineyards, may have further contributed to reduced fruit set and/or isolated frost damage.
The above-average precipitation in the early part of the season gave way to more normal rainfall patterns for the summer, combined with below-average temperatures in the central and northern parts of the state. For many growers, the challenges of the spring gave way to generally dry and cooler-than-average ripening conditions.
Harvest commenced in southeast and central Virginia in late August, but throughout the state, many winegrowers noted a 7- to 10-day later-than-normal harvest date for particular varieties. Rainfall from veraison to harvest varied significantly throughout the state; 7 or more inches of rain fell between early August and early September in the eastern part of the state, due to coastal low pressure systems, while less than 2 inches fell in the northern Shenandoah Valley during that same period.
While it’s always dodgy to generalize about the entire state’s conditions, the broad picture of harvest conditions for the state could be summarized as generally very high quality fruit, although preliminary crop levels appear to have been reduced by about 10% from recent years; acidity levels were higher, and pH correspondingly lower for a given sugar level in many cases. Wineries are predicting that 2009 will be a stellar year for Virginia white wines and a well above average year for reds.
There were more grapes on the open market this year, with some of Virginia’s larger wineries cutting back on contract purchases. Overall Virginia wine sales were up 7.9% during the first six months of 2009 over same period of the previous year. While sales are up, some wineries still have significant inventories of wine from the large 2008 harvest (6,800 tons). In general, wine production has doubled in Virginia during the past five years, so even with the increased sales, production has outpaced sales. Virginia currently has 157 wineries and nearly 3,000 acres of vineyards.
Annette Ringwood Boyd
Virginia Wine Marketing Office
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