Published: September 18, 2010 3:00 a.m.
Dry, hot summer
boon to area grapes
Dan and Krista Stockman | The
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
Not that winemakers get the summer off, but harvest is when the real work
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
Of course, they say wine is really made in the vineyard, meaning that it’s
the grapes that determine the quality of the
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
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.