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Published: September 18, 2010 3:00 a.m.
Dry, hot summer boon to area grapes
Dan and Krista Stockman | The Journal Gazette
Summer is over, and while everyone thinks of it as the end of leisure time and a return to work, that is most true for winemakers.
Not that winemakers get the summer off, but harvest is when the real work begins.
All those grapes have to be picked at just the right time, then moved into the winery to be crushed and put into fermentation tanks. Coordinating dozens of different varieties, all with different harvest dates, can be a real chore in itself. It will be December or January – when everything is settled down to age – before they can take a rest.
Of course, they say wine is really made in the vineyard, meaning that it’s the grapes that determine the quality of the wine.
And for northeast Indiana, the grape quality this year is great, said Larry Satek, winemaker at Satek Winery in Fremont and president of the Indiana Wine Grape Council.
“The grapes are very, very nice,” Larry said. “If we had a summer like this every summer, we’d be very happy.”
The summer was warm and dry, with just enough rain, giving the grapes very good chemistry. The warmth also helped them ripen faster, which means an earlier harvest and less chance for rot, disease, hail or any of the dozens of other things that can go wrong when your harvest is literally hanging on the vine.
“Normally, this would have been a spectacular year,” he said.
But it wasn’t normal.
While the quality is high, the yield is low, thanks to a bad frost May 10.
“That is a day that will live in infamy, as far as I’m concerned,” Larry said.
Normally, a frost on May 10 would do little or no damage (unless it was an extremely hard frost), as the vines are just starting to bud then. But this year we had a warm March and April, so the vines had six- to eight-inch shoots on them.
“The worst ones got really hammered,” he said. “It was like a blowtorch went through and burned them back.”
Depending on the location, some vineyards will yield about 90 percent of normal, while others, like the one just outside Satek’s winery, will see about 25 percent of a normal harvest.
That’s tough to take in any year, but especially hard when the grapes they do get are such good quality.
In Napa, meanwhile, winemakers have had just the opposite summer – unusually cool and foggy.
When we were there in July, winemakers in both Napa and Sonoma were worried about the cool temperatures.
Of course, the world is different in Napa than it is in the Midwest. Here, we look for warm summers to help ripen the crop and get sugar levels up. There, warmth is usually not the issue, so the cool summer they had this year will mean grapes with more complexity and subtleties than usual, which is a good thing. But if the harvest is pushed back too far – MarketWatch reports the Napa cabernet sauvignon crop is seven to 10 days behind schedule – it can get into the rainy season of November. Rain and ripe grapes are a bad combination, unless you like rotten grapes.
How cool was it? Many vineyards went through and removed extra leaves from the vines to give more sun to the grapes and help them ripen, a move some regretted when temperatures finally hit 100 degrees in August and they feared the grapes would be burned.
All of which is why we pay attention to vintages. Every year is different. Every season tells a story. And that story – for better or for worse, for frost and for sun – is told in the bottle later on.

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