A Wines & Vines special report: harvest 1998 – grape harvesting
KERN COUNTY by Don Luvisi Farm Advisor
Grapes were the number one agricultural commodity in 1997 with a value of $496 million. Fifty-three % of this value was from table or fresh market grapes. Currently, Kern County has 87,000 acres of grapes of which 10,600 acres are non-bearing. Non-bearing acreage consists of 4,800 acres of wine grapes, 5,000 acres of table grapes and 800 acres of raisin varieties (raisin varieties can be used for both drying and fresh market).
Weather played a big role in the quality and quantity of the 1998 harvest. Spring rains resulted in higher botrytis levels than normal which caused additional decay before harvest and a reduced storage period to market the crop. In addition, harvest of grapes was three weeks late and resulted in a loss of market time. Later ripening varieties then overlapped the late ripening early varieties which caused a temporary oversupply of fruit. In addition to the botrytis problems, many vineyards developed moderate to severe infections of phomopsis. The severity of these infections will be noted at pruning time when selecting wood for the 1999 crop. One new pest was found in Kern County in 1998, the vine mealybug, which has been in the Coachella Valley for several years. The spread and damage will be monitored during the 1999 season.
Table grape growers normally do an excellent job of controlling powdery mildew by adhering to a strict schedule of prevention using wettable sulfur, sulfur dust and the newer materials. Sulfur is the key to maintaining a successful resistance management program and the loss of sulfur dust will complicate powdery control programs. Especially since a total spray program is dependent upon coverage which is difficult to obtain even under the best of conditions.
Kern County would expect to have small increases in acreage but no massive influx of new plantings similar to the ’70s. Current plantings have been made by growers already in the table and wine industry. Thus plantings are being made to provide for projected needs.
LAKE & MENDOCINO COUNTIES by Glenn McGourty Viticulture and Plant Science Advisor
The 1998 growing season was a challenge for growers in many ways. It began with wet and intermittent frosty weather that delayed bud break and bloom by as much as four weeks in some vineyards. Bloom conditions were less than ideal for many varietals, and light clusters were found all over the region. As a result, vineyards in both Mendocino and Lake counties had between 15-25% less crop than average. Prices generally were stable, with little change from the 1997 harvest.
Powdery mildew was a severe problem for many growers due to ideal conditions for disease development in late June and early July. Late spring rains and cool temperatures made it difficult for growers to put their spray rigs into the vineyards. Early infections from overwintering cleistothecia set the stage for bad infections later, especially if the growers were not vigilant about early treatments. Many growers had “hot spots” that needed extra attention in the form of fruit washing, leaf pulling and additional fungicide treatments.
Very hot weather in mid and late July caused sunburn and some leaf scorch, especially following sulfur dusting put on earlier in cooler weather. This also contributed to lighter crops in many vineyards.
Harvest began very late. Sparkling wine grapes were picked beginning around September 10, which was almost one month later than usual. The weather in September and early October was generally sunny and mild, which made for a long, slow ripening period for most varietals. Rains and cold weather late in October stretched the harvest into almost mid-November in some vineyards. A few vineyards in Lake County were not harvested due to low sugars and bunch rot. Some Pinot noir fruit in Anderson Valley was diverted from still wine programs to sparkling wines, purchased on the spot market by Napa and Sonoma sparkling wine houses that failed to obtain all of the fruit that they needed in their areas.
Fruit quality generally was good, considering the difficulty of the harvest. Stuck fermentations were a problem with some lots, due in part to late harvests and cooler cellar temperatures. Winemakers have expressed their opinions that white wines from this vintage will generally be average, and red wines may very well be above average, due to the long hang times and slow ripening of the fruit, allowing for good acidity and fruit flavors. The next few months will be revealing for those wines.
Few vineyards are for sale, and those being sold received record prices in both Lake and Mendocino counties. Mendocino County has few available sites left for new vineyards, with most activity occurring in Potter and Anderson Valleys. Lake County is enjoying a tremendous expansion of new vineyards, particularly between the towns of Lower Lake and Kelseyville on the rolling hills with red volcanic soils. New projects underway will plant close to 3,000 acres in the next three years. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and other red varietals are among the most planted grapes in these new vineyards. Many of the projects are being done by growers from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, seeking to expand in the most affordable region of the North Coast American Viticultural Area. The high elevation and continental climate of Lake County work together to make the fruit interesting and of high quality. The growers are well-organized and proactive, with the Lake County Wine Grape Commission assisting the industry in promotion, education and research. Working in a partnership with the Lake County Board of Supervisors, the LCWGC has successfully funded a part time viticulture research associate for the local University of California Cooperative Extension office. Steve Tylicki was successfully hired to manage research projects and assist in grower education for LCWGC members under the direction of (the) UCCE Viticulture Advisor (Glenn McGourty).
Phylloxera continues to be a vexing problem for growers on AXR-1 rootstock. More vineyards are showing evidence of infestation in virtually all growing areas of Mendocino County. The appearance of foliar phylloxera in a rootstock nursery was not reassuring, either. Although the infested vines have been destroyed and the remainder of the mother vines sprayed, the long-term implications of the find are unclear and upsetting to vineyardists in the immediate area.
Young vine decline was also a problem in some new vineyards. Poor quality nursery stock coupled with stress from too little or too much water seemed to bring on symptoms. In some vineyards, dead vines ran as high as 25% of the planting. Vineyards on well-drained soils with good water management seemed less likely to show problems. Pierce’s Disease is a slight problem in the Hopland area. Careful monitoring by Dr. Sandy Purcell and his staff from U.C., Berkeley find that the disease is only moving slightly, even though blue green sharpshooters are abundant in the area. If Dr. Purcell’s theory that cool temperatures suppress the bacterial causal agent of the disease, then the cool weather of late December (with temperatures down to 19 degrees) should help to limit the spread of this problem.
In Mendocino County, winegrowing is rapidly replacing timber as a main economic engine for the county. As timber-related jobs disappear, wineries are becoming more important as employers in the local economy. The Mendocino Winegrowers Association continues to thrive, and recently hired John Enquist (formerly from the Sonoma County Wineries Association) as their new, full-time executive director. The MWA was also instrumental in the forming of the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance that uses bed tax funds matched with private industry funds to promote tourism, wine, food and agricultural products of Mendocino County. This imaginative collaborative effort is unique in California, and has been well received by the Board of Supervisors and business community alike. Their first “road show” promotional event “Mendocino Bounty,” was held in San Francisco at Fort Mason in November, and over 500 people attended, including food and wine writers, buyers and other interested persons.
Wineries remain stable in the region, with little change of ownership. Sales for most wineries have been healthy, and there have been modest expansion projects for several wineries. Fetzer Vineyards continues to grow, moving all of their winemaking facilities from Redwood Valley to Hopland. Their subsidiary barrel building company, Mendocino Cooperage, opened a large (40,000 sq. ft. plus) facility this summer adjacent to the winery.
In summary, the 1998 season ended with a sigh of relief by most growers! Winegrowing in both Mendocino and Lake counties is thriving, and people are hoping for an easier 1999 season.
LIVERMORE VALLEY by Philip R. Wente Wente Vineyards
The Livermore Valley experienced one of the smallest crops in memory, 60% less than 1997 and 40% less than average on a per acre basis. Overall the Valley continues to enjoy a robust economic boom, with new vineyard planting projected at 400 acres for 1999, and one or two new wineries on the drawing board. Long-term planning remains a top priority, as both the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association and the Tri-Valley Business Council are participating in a vision-planning process that will address the agricultural land remaining after the five Valley Cities reach buildout at their urban limit lines. It is estimated that this process will “return” to active irrigated agriculture/viticulture 20,000 to 30,000 acres from 0-20% slope, all within the three prime coastal growing regions, Davis 1-3 at various locations around the Valley. The future looks bright.
MERCED COUNTY by Maxwell Norton U. C. Cooperative Extension
Nineteen ninety-eight was a very frustrating year for winegrape growers. Not only was tonnage down, but prices stayed down also. This resulted in a significant drop in gross income. Combine that with increased costs for disease control and net income was even worse.
From the very beginning, diseases were a concern for growers. There was significant damage in early spring to the shoots and canes from phomopsis cane and leaf spot. During the summer, measles became evident in many blocks – some of which was severe. Some of these may be due to Phaeoacremonium grapevine decline but we do not know. Because of cool temperatures, powdery mildew was not observed much during early spring, but once temperatures returned to the optimum range pest control advisors and growers were scrambling to catch up. Fortunately, most growers got the disease under control but not until spending lots of money on fungicides. Pierce’s Disease continues to be rare to non-existent in Merced. Phylloxera is rare also.
Delayed maturity was the real problem of 1998. Winery representatives found themselves waiting, and waiting and waiting for blocks to reach desired sugar levels. Normally, San Joaquin Valley vineyards are known for their high sugar and low acid. Last year was just the opposite.
Everyone is glad that 1998 is over.
MONTEREY, SAN BENITO AND SANTA CRUZ COUNTIES by Larry Bettiga Viticulture Farm Advisor
The higher than normal rainfall during winter and spring had grapevines starting growth under wet conditions. The continuation of spring rains caused problems in scheduling of early season mildew treatments. The occurrence of shoot and leaf botrytis infection was noted in many vineyards due to the moist conditions. Wet soil conditions created major problems with new vineyard development and delayed planting into later than normal time periods.
Low temperatures in April and May, in combination with wet soils, increased the occurrence of yellow chlorosis of leaves. As temperatures warmed in June mildew pressure increased and it became apparent that problems with early season applications increased the occurrence of powdery mildew infections. Growers responded by increasing the amount of leaf removal to open canopies to get better exposure of clusters and to improve spray coverage. Growing costs were increased significantly in 1998 due to the need for additional canopy management and fungicide applications.
Cool weather during most of bloom also resulted in greater variability in fruit set. There was a greater amount of cluster variation within vines and also between vineyards in a given production area. Early blooming varieties appeared to be more severely affected by poor fruit set, which resulted in looser clusters and smaller berries. Higher cluster counts helped offset the lower weights. As cooler than normal conditions continued into the summer months it significantly delayed harvest, especially compared to the early 1997 harvest which started about four weeks earlier than 1998. With the long growing season fruit flavors seemed to develop at lower Brix than normal. As harvest proceeded yields were average to below average. There were some vineyards and varieties with above average crops. The 1998 harvest continued at an even pace and without the delivery problems that occurred in 1997. The harvest continued into mid-November for Cabernet Sauvignon. Considering the wet conditions during bloom and some mid-harvest rain, botrytis levels were low in 1998. The increased cluster exposure from leaf removal helped to reduce disease potential. Powdery mildew did result in yield loss in some vineyards.
Prices for fruit on the open market were soft early in 1998. As the cool weather and rain reduced the yield potential of the 1998 crop prices slowly increased. Cabernet Sauvignon prices increased the most due to the short supply.
The long-range outlook for the winegrape industry remains positive. Vineyard expansion in the area has continued in 1998 with future growth dependent on winery interest; several vineyard developments are planned for 1999. The newly constructed Kendall-Jackson winery south of Soledad opened for the 1998 harvest.
NAPA COUNTY by Ed Weber Viticulture Farm Advisor
The 1998 vintage in Napa County has been described as “unusual”, “forgettable”, “big on inputs, low on yield”, and “pathetic”, as well as “awesome”, “really nice”, and “we really lucked out”. The first set of comments came from growers who had to deal with the onslaught of problems created by El Nino, the second set are from winemakers who are ecstatic about the 1998 wines.
El Nino was the dominant force in 1998, bringing unseasonably late rains into May and June, and delaying all stages of vine growth and development by a month. The season began with heavy rains in January with minor flooding in February. Several nights of frost protection were required in April. Cool, rainy weather continued through the spring, delaying budbreak, early vine development and bloom.
It was a severe spring for diseases, including phomopsis, spring botrytis and powdery mildew. Bloom was 3-4 weeks late and was slow and straggly. There was considerable rain at the end of May that coincided with bloom in the early varieties such as Pinot noir and Chardonnay. Cabernet and other late varieties had much better weather during their bloom period.
Due to heavy disease pressure, growers were forced to apply multiple applications of fungicides. In addition, the late spring rains wreaked havoc with weed control and other cultural operations. Growers were diligent with canopy management practices such as leaf removal to reduce the risk of botrytis at harvest. This backfired in some cases due to extreme heat that came in July and August. Many vineyards lost considerable crop due to sunburn.
Crop loads were already light in most cases due to the poor weather conditions during bloom. Cluster counts were normal but cluster weights were very low due to poor set. Pinot noir and Chardonnay were particularly low, Merlot was variable depending on the site and Cabernet generally set average crops. These light crops may have been somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Harvest was a month behind schedule with most occurring in October. Had yields been higher, harvest would have been delayed even further and fruit may not have gotten ripe.
As it was, there were great concerns in September due to the low sugar levels and the prospect of October rains. Fortunately, the weather finally turned in growers’ favor and October was blessed with warm, dry “Indian summer” conditions that allowed the vines to ripen their fruit. Fall botrytis was not a major problem in most vineyards. The slow ripening during the short days of October allowed for excellent flavor development, thus the glowing reports from winemakers.
Yields ranged from “pathetic” to normal. Pinot noir crops of less than one ton per acre were not uncommon. Most vineyards were off by 10-50%, with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon which yielded well in most cases. El Nino’s effects on yield may even carry over into 1999. Growers are now concerned about low crops in 1999 due to reduced cluster formation during the poor weather conditions in the spring of 1998.
1998 will be remembered as the most challenging year for most grape growers. While the wines may prove to be exceptional, you’d be hard-pressed to find a grower who would like a repeat of the year.
SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY by Paul S. Verdegaal Farm Advisor
As far as 1998 is concerned most everyone is glad it is over and now a fading memory. From the viticultural perspective it was a very difficult year. The weather for most of the season was very European, cool and rainy. Growers spent more money and suffered lighter yields, more so with Zinfandel. Quality problems varied depending very much on variety and vineyard location, but overall quality was good to very good.
The season started with budbreak only slightly delayed, following a lot of rainfall through December, January, February and March. After the initial shoot growth there was continued rain and very cool temperatures. Very little growth occurred until mid-April. When temperatures did warm (slightly) growth was phenomenal. Some growers did leaf removal twice! Temperatures remained below normal and rainfall continued periodically through bloom. Bloom was about two to three weeks behind normal (on average mid-May). Spring rains usually don’t happen after early May, but in 1998 they continued through early June. Average rainfall totals are about 17 inches (425mm) while for 1998 the final total was 31 inches (775mm). Degree-day accumulations through June were about 75% of normal.
While leafhopper and mite problems were generally minor and delayed by about a month compared to normal appearance dates, disease pressure was high all year. At budbreak phomopsis was very evident, as was botrytis shoot blight. Flower clusters were also hit hard by botrytis strikes. Symphony appears to be extremely sensitive to flower cluster infections, losing 50 to 60% of entire clusters before bloom. Syrah was relatively sensitive along with Zinfandel, while Chardonnay was moderately affected by botrytis of clusters at bloom. Powdery mildew problems were common, even on fairly resistant varieties such as Zinfandel. Many growers made 12 to 15 applications (average is about eight) for powdery mildew control and still saw some slight infections. Eutypa dieback is a continuing and worsening problem. The county also has had its share of young vine decline problems, although incidents have been more scattered rather than general.
Due to the high rainfall and cool temperatures, “dry-farming” was more common this year. In many cases the first irrigations didn’t occur until early August. Harvest was delayed because of the cool weather. The start of white Zinfandel for white production was about a month behind last year, as was Chardonnay. Although there was a lot of concern about early rains and a late harvest, the weather cooperated with warm temperatures and clear skies. Later varieties such as Syrah, Merlot and especially Cabernet Sauvignon benefited from the weather to catch up with maturity compared to normal. Scattered blocks were still harvested into November, but sooner than was the concern for the year.
Yields were dramatically down compared to 1997, but overall the harvest was only slightly below average. Some varieties such as Zinfandel were severely below normal, while Cabernet Sauvignon among others were about normal. There were exceptions, maybe due to the erratic rainfall pattern from the spring storms. Quality was mixed, but generally good. Initial indications are that while quality is good, color and flavor intensity is less than 1997 for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Quality of Zinfandel for red programs was very good to excellent, in spite of or maybe because of all the problems that variety had. Trends of prices that growers received were varied. Chardonnay and Zinfandel were stable, Cabernet Sauvignon went up slightly and Merlot was down slightly. Again, there were many exceptions, as everything went last year.
New plantings are finally beginning to slow down, but are continuing. Several wineries or grower-owned winery/crush facilities have been bulk, are being established or are in the planning stage within the county. Overall, demand for quality grapes and the lower than expected total crop in 1998 appear to have helped extend the good times locally. Changing varieties, improved production practices, more grower and vintner cooperation, reasonable costs and increasing recognition are all providing local growers good reason to look forward to the new millennium. There are many challenges with regard to competition, regulations, viticultural pests and neo-prohibitionists, but local growers and vintners appear to be preparing to meet these challenges with some confidence.
SIERRA FOOTHILLS by Buck Cobb Karly Wines
You are doubtless reading in the California region reports about the impact El Nino had on the vintage. The Sierra Foothills were no exception; the seasons and rain lingered on, rain during bloom reduced the crop, mildew and botrytis threatened the crop way into summer, and then early rains and winter seemed to arrive in late September just as the grapes crossed threshold maturity. Unlike some parts of California where there was no choice but to wait, Foothill vintners had to decide whether to (a) pick while the picking was good, or (b) roll the dice and wait. Since the weather thereafter changed to a near perfect cool and dry October, (b) may have been the better choice. Many of the higher vineyards in El Dorado County were not picked until late November, but the fruit was sound.
Summing up, it was a year nobody would like to experience again, but the area came out O.K. and some very fine and perhaps one-time-only wines will be made. We will be drinking some interesting comparisons of harvest decisions. Vintners here are calling 1998 our “French” year, which is a pretty accurate description of the weather and high acid style that will mark the vintage.
The wine and grape markets of the last few years are beginning to make a big impact on the foothill landscape and wine scene, particularly in Amador County. Montevina winery is undergoing a very large expansion and has added major vineyard acreage. Several smaller players are adding facility and just about every easily-planted acre is being staked. Grape acreage may come close to doubling in the next few years. Four new wineries plan to open in 1999. Phylloxera has forced replanting in a few isolated areas having clay streaks, and eutypa is becoming more annoying, but nearly all planting and replanting are to varieties and trellis systems that are going to be important in the future. Zinfandel dominates in Amador and the Bordeaux varieties in El Dorado and southern vineyards, but serious commitments are being made to Barbera and Syrah in particular, and more than experimental amounts of Sangiovese, Viognier, Roussanne and other Rhone varieties are appearing in many locations.
SONOMA COUNTY by Rhonda Smith Farm Advisor
It was a long “Maalox moment” year for growers, but 1998 fruit quality-especially the reds – made winemakers smile. Saying that 1998 was a “bad” weather year is an understatement. The ’97-’98 winter was one of the four wettest years on record. The month of May was the coldest on record, with average daily high temperatures nine degrees below normal. El Nino brought rains lasting into June making it impossible to plant new vineyards or chop prunings until much later than scheduled. Bloom continued into the second week of July in cooler growing regions and along the coast. In extreme cases, veraison occurred in September. A few heat waves in late July and early August – reaching 115 [degrees] in areas – damaged some fruit.
Low temperatures during bloom resulted in reduced berry set. In some sites, Viognier and Petite Verdot vines dropped flowers before bloom. Fewer and smaller berries per cluster was the principal reason for reduced yields. Quantity was down as much as 50% for some varieties, particularly Pinot noir and Merlot. In most areas Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon tonnage was average.
Grapes for sparkling wine were picked beginning in early September and the rest of the harvest continued to be three to five weeks later than 1997, lasting into November. Showers in late September caused some growers to contemplate delivering grapes that had not met minimum brix. The vast majority of growers simply waited it out and were glad they did. Temperatures rose to the 70s or better in October allowing the grapes to ripen to full maturity. Fruit picked late in the season had excellent flavor development
Powdery mildew and botrytis disease incidence was high due to unseasonably cool temperatures prior to veraison. For the most part, insect pressure was down, although mite infestations occurred in traditional hot spots. Low trap counts of blue-green sharpshooters – a vector of Pierce’s Disease – ave growers needed relief from this pest.
Orders of Cabernet Sauvignon vines hit a 20-year high in Sonoma County, surpassing Chardonnay orders for the first time since 1978. The Sonoma County Grape Grower’s Association mapped the county’s vineyards and discovered that there are 8,000 more acres of vines than previously reported, bringing the total planted wine grape acreage to at least 48,000.
TEMECULA by Alex Yakut Temecula Winegrape Growers Association
El Nino’s wrath was felt strongly in Temecula, even though the effect might have been lesser there than in other parts of the state due to our milder weather. Nonetheless, we suffered in quantity, which was 12 to 15% lower than normal, and in the quality of certain varietals, notably Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. This was an abnormally long season. It started wet and cold, which affected the size of berries. In July we experienced a number of triple-digit degree days that affected photosynthesis. Later, the weather cooled again, with wineries begging for the grapes that were struggling to get the right maturity levels even in late September and early October. The late harvest, coupled with the high humidity and coolness due to mid-summer rains have taken their toll on some white grapes. Chardonnay was very spotty, with some rot and mildew; Riesling also suffered from bunch rot.
However, despite the problems, the quality of the harvest was mostly good. This was because Temecula growers took great pains this year to minimize the moisture-related problems. This included reducing the periods between sprayings, pulling leaves to get better air circulation and thinning clusters.
Temecula winegrape prices were generally soft early in the season, 15 to 25% lower than 1997, mainly due to hype about a 1998 glut that never materialized. Wineries would not sign contracts until early July, expecting lower prices. However, as the actual 1998 crop conditions became apparent in other parts of the state, demand for Temecula’s coastal grapes began to climb and prices ended up 10 to 15% higher than in 1997.
Pierce’s Disease made news in Temecula last year. Glassy-winged sharpshooters and very few Smoke Tree sharpshooters were discovered in a number of vineyards there. None of the “classic” PD vectors were observed in the area. Temecula Winegrape Growers Association (TWGA) employed a researcher from the University of California at Riverside and continued its research program to combat the disease. It was found that “Admire”, a Bayer Corp. systemic insecticide applied via drip irrigation, has the potential to disrupt the transmission of the PD bacterium by killing sharpshooters. Research is continuing on the use of Admire, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has been requested to grant a section 24C registration for the use of Admire in grapevines to target sharpshooter vectors. Luckily, the spread of Pierce’s Disease was very limited in Temecula, apparently due to the cool weather. In addition to PD, diseases that were bothersome to Temecula grapegrowers this season included corky bark, measles, bot canker and nematodes.
A number of new vineyards dot the wine country landscape in Temecula this year. Rhone and Italian varietals are still very popular, but new plantings, as well as grafting, of Cabernet Sauvignon and even Riesling are noted. Most, but not all of the new plantings have been in the county-designated “Vineyard/Citrus” zoning area which is protected from urban sprawl. Some intrusions have been attempted by churches, schools, non-related commercial enterprises and even senior housing. These efforts were resisted by the grapegrowers, but with limited success.
by Al Wiederkehr Wiederkehr Wine Cellars
The 1998 grape crop was above average with about 5,600 tons of good quality grapes at prices the same as in 1997. How many years can you remember the coldest day of winter being in early March? I can’t remember any, but I’ll try to remember this one. The lows at the research stations during the cold period March 11-13 were 10 [degrees] F in Fayetteville, 14 [degrees] F at Clarkesville and 16 [degrees] F at Altus. We were fortunate to have a cool period (highs at Clarkesville and Altus were in the 40s all but one day in the period March 6-10) just prior to these freezing nights. This cool period apparently hardened the plant tissues resulting in less severe damage to buds than what might have been had the daytime highs been in the 60s and 70s, common to that time of the month.
Grape buds were still dormant to only slightly swelled during the freezes and fully escaped damage.
Budbreak was March 29th on early pushers and April 3rd on late pushers. Exceptionally nice weather during bloom caused all varieties to have a beautiful fruit set and brought on a season of exceptionally handsome grape clusters.
Rainfall was about normal for spring and early mid-growing season but from then on through harvest we had extremely dry drought conditions. Everyone that irrigated properly had a very good crop. There was more extensive irrigation in the 1998 growing season than at any time since the recordmaking drought of 1980. We see a renewed interest in drip irrigation installations since last summer.
Winegrape varieties were harvested during the four weeks of August and the first week of September. Table grape harvest began about July 7th.
The main winegrape region is located in and around the Altus viticultural appellation in northwest Arkansas where over 98% of Arkansas wine is made. This excellent grape growing region is located on a unique plateau and Boston Mountain Range overlooking the deep and wide Arkansas River valley to the south and the great Ouachita (“washitaw”) mountain range beyond.
More specifically the choice vineyard sites are in the Altus Viticultural Area which consists of about 13,000 acres of agricultural land that lies north of the Arkansas River on Boston Mountain slopes and plateaus with southern exposure and is also suited for peaches, apples, blueberries and other fruits. Wine and table grapes have been grown in this region since 1880, and today it is still the main area in Arkansas for growing winegrapes, especially vitis vinifera.
The fall and winter of 1997-1998 provided excellent maturation of vines into dormancy. Annual rainfall is about 39 inches for the Altus appellation. Generally speaking, in Arkansas precipitation increases from the northwest to the southeast and the heaviest rainfall usually occurs in March, April and May while the driest months are August, September and October. In 1998, as usual, our heaviest rainfall was in March, April and May; it diminished throughout the growing season to early June and very dry thereafter. The more progressive growers use drip or overhead sprinkler irrigation.
1998 brought one of those growing seasons that all good vineyard managers with well-equipped vineyards, dream of. The weather was just about perfect early on to get a good crop set. Then good drip irrigation supplemented by some rainfall through the early growing season, gave us a good growth. Humidity and rainfall was lower than normal and therefore fewer fungicide applications had to be made. The leaves were healthy because they weren’t stressed and burned by the drought nor were they damaged by insects. Insect populations were lower than normal because drought hindered pupation (this also reduced the number of insecticide sprays). The result was a beautiful quality crop.
One good example of what can be done in Arkansas with premium wine grapes is as follows: one vinifera vineyard that had been mis-managed for a few years and was infested with powdery mildew and black rot was turned around completely in one growing season. With a good program of basic pest management emphasizing prevention this vineyard received winter dormant sprays followed by a simple well-balanced, well-timed spray program and went from about six total tons per 11 1/2 acres to about 50 tons of premium quality wine grapes.
The turnaround was not only in quantity but in quality. The about six tons delivered to a winery in 1997 was not only infected with black rot and powdery mildew, they were harvested too early because of fear of further deterioration and were low in sugar, high in pH, and totally saturated with sulfur, truly a winemaker’s nightmare. The about 50 tons delivered in 1998 from the same vineyard were higher in sugar, lower in pH and completely free of sulfur. This is a clear example of why experts agree that good wine is made in the vineyard.
The Ozark Table Grape Growers Association (OTGGA) headquartered in Searcy, has about 190 acres of young vineyards planted to seedless table grape varieties that were developed by Dr. James Moore of the University of Arkansas substation at Clarksville, near the Altus Appellation. They have expanded plantings of Mars, Saturn and a relatively new (Concord-style) juice type named “Sunbelt” that can produce six tons or more on a simple trellis. They have also T-budded and grafted over some white varieties to better-flavored and firmer-shipper red seedless types. Arkansas has an excellent grape-breeding program. Two new tablegrape types will be released soon. As yet un-named, one red type is number 1985 and the other, a white type, is number 2083. A number of wine types are nearing release also.
Overall grape prices were stable and wineries were able to produce or purchase high-quality grapes. New commercial winegrape plantings are going in now (1999) and more are scheduled for (2000), especially Cynthiana/Norton.
This variety, Cynthiana/Norton, is one of the first varieties grown by the early immigrants in 1880 in the Altus area. They used it the same way the French did, as a rootstock as well as for red wines. Cynthiana was received some time in the 1850s by Prince of Flushing, Long Island, from Arkansas where it is said to have been found growing in the forest. It was sent by Prince to Husmann at Herman, Missouri, where it did so well and was so highly spoken of by Husmann and his neighbors that it soon became known to grape-growers. It was placed upon the grape list of the American Pomological Society fruit catalog in 1881. As the demand for premium red wines has increased since the French Paradox so has the demand for more and better Cynthiana.
There are still four wineries in Arkansas. The two oldest and largest wineries are owned and operated by two families that are blood relatives and date back to 1880.
We have no problem with Pierce’s Disease because our winters are cold enough to keep the disease pushed out of Arkansas except for the very southern part where there are no vineyards. The worst grape pests remain the same: powdery mildew, black rot and fanleaf virus. We have effective control for the most common diseases such as powdery mildew and black rot, but with a change at EPA we could have future problems. Newer and some of the best older rootstocks are being used to control phylloxera and fanleaf. Organic viticulture is only experimental in our area.
Grape land is about the same price and the long-range outlook for viticulture in our area is very good. Vineyards that produce about 500 tons annually were put out of business by the new regional airport serving northwest Arkansas near Fayetteville, Springdale and Bentonville (Walmart headquarters area).
The Altus Viticultural Area in Arkansas has an excellent meso-climate and is the highest-quality appellation in Arkansas and one of the best in America.
by Rick Hamman, Viticulturist Colorado State University
An unusually long, warm, dry growing season left most Colorado winemakers smiling. The 1998 season produced excellent quality fruit and is being considered by many winemakers as a really great year. Wine grape production, on the other hand, was down approximately 14% from 1997’s record harvest. The 1998 harvest of 650 tons averaged 2.6 tons per acre. The harvest was smaller than anticipated and was likely a result of an unusual low temperature (13[degrees]F) that occurred March 8. This low temperature was enough to cause abnormal trunk damage to vines grown in warmer sites. Chardonnay was more severely damaged than other varieties. The 13[degrees]F temperature would normally not cause damage but was preceded by a warmer than average winter. Average low temperatures for January and February were 4[degrees]F to 9[degrees]F warmer than the 30-year average.
The first fall frost (30[degrees]F) for the Grand Valley Viticulture Region (elevation 4,500 feet) occurred November 6 and was two weeks later than normal. The growing season was unusually long with 202 frost-free days recorded, well above the average (163 days) for the region. Rainfall for May – October was 5.6 inches and was slightly lower for the region compared to the normal 6.2. inches. The low moisture and relative humidity kept powdery mildew to a minimum. Grape mealybug has become a definite nuisance and more growers are beginning control measures.
The date of bud break was normal for most vinifera grown in the region and began April 28 and ended May 8. Average monthly high temperatures for July, August and September were 2[degrees]F to 4[degrees]F warmer than normal. The total cumulative growing degree-day units (April-October 31, 50[degrees]F base) for the Grand Valley region was 3,601, much warmer than the 30-year average of 3,328. Harvest dates were typical for most varieties beginning September 3 and finishing October 15. Overall, fruit quality was excellent.
Grape prices remain good with the average price per ton at $1,127. Grape prices ranged from $700 per ton for Riesling to $1,500 per ton for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The average hand picking cost was $117 per ton.
Colorado has approximately 300 acres of vines planted and 250 of those are producing. Thirteen more acres were planted to vines last year. 99% of the vineyards are planted in Western Colorado at elevations between 4,500 and 6,500 feet. Chardonnay remains the most widely planted variety in Colorado and now represents 26% of the acreage, followed closely by Merlot (22%), Riesling (8%), Cabernet Sauvignon (8%), Pinot noir (6%), Cabernet franc (6%), Gewurztraminer (5%) and nineteen other vinifera varieties. Colorado currently has 22 licensed wineries with three more on line for 1999.
by Bruce Bordelon, Ph.D. Viticulturist, Purdue University
The 1998 winegrape crop was slightly below average in yield. Spring started very early across the Midwest and adequate rain fell during the early summer. Late summer and fall were warm and dry so growers were able to fully ripen the crop with excellent quality and few disease problems. Harvest occurred one to two weeks earlier than normal.
Demand for grapes continues to surpass supply in Indiana. Grape prices are relatively low due to availability of fruit and juice from other states. Prices ranged from $450 to $700 per ton for white hybrids, and from $450 to $900 per ton for red hybrids. American varieties sold for $300 to $600 per ton.
Despite low prices and availability of imported juice, interest in grape production is relatively high. Existing growers continue to expand acreage and several new growers established vineyards in 1998. Demand for Indiana-grown grapes is the stimulus for the increase in acreage as new wineries open and existing wineries increase sales. Most of the new plantings have been in the premium hybrids such as Seyval, Chardonel, Vignoles, and Chambourcin. Interest in Traminette is very high. Vinifera varieties are being produced on a limited basis on the best sites. All winegrapes grown in Indiana are hand-pruned and hand-harvested.
There are no major disease or insect problems in the Midwest that cannot be controlled by cultural practices or chemical applications. Registration of the new strobilurin fungicides provides a new tool for disease management. Registration of softer materials such as Styler oil and potassium bi-carbonate should help delay development of fungicide resistance.
The outlook is positive for the Indiana grape and wine industries. There are 19 wineries operating in the state and several new wineries planning to open in the near future. Indiana wine sales totaled 123,600 gallons in 1997 which is an increase of 300% since 1990 when the Indiana Wine Grape Council, a research and marketing advisory group, became operational.
by Jack Johnston Maryland Grape Growers Association
It is said that, in these parts, every decade includes at least two good vintages in a row. If 1998 had been a poor one, then our chances of realizing this maxim would have been shot for the ’90s.
Fortunately, this was not the case. 1998 was a worthy successor to 1997. Both years experienced a mild winter and a dry summer. The late winter and entire spring were wetter than the previous year, but things dried up by late June and stayed that way through harvest. Bud break was one to two weeks earlier than ’97, as was flowering, veraison and harvest in most varieties. Temperatures were warm throughout the summer, but never broke the 100 degree mark.
In spite of the dry conditions, foliage growth was heavy, requiring many pre-spray hedging rounds to assure adequate fungicide penetration. Leaf pulling had to be repeated in many vineyards.
Crop sizes were generally higher than in 1997, due probably to increased grape cluster sizes – the intense heat of ’97 tended to make for smaller, more concentrated berries. Sugars and acids were somewhat lower, pHs higher. Overall quality is excellent, if somewhat lower in overt fruit characteristics – a leaner but hopefully more complex wine seems likely.
Disease occurrence was minimal as well. The inevitable powdery mildew showed up here and there, unseasonably late in most cases, as did some downy. Japanese beetles were non-existent throughout most of the state, although pockets of them were reported to be heavy on the Eastern Shore. Bird and deer problems were also generally fewer this year.
A tenth winery opened this year, in the risky northwest region of the state, and development plans for a winery cooperative are moving along for the Eastern Shore. The severe shortage of grapes continues to be a limiting factor in winery expansion. In an effort to address this situation, the Maryland Department of Agriculture sponsored the state’s first Grape Growing Seminar to encourage new growers.
Prices remain stable, as do varietal choices – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Chardonnay, Seyval, Chambourcin and Vidal.
by Charlene Selbee New Mexico Wine Growers Assn.
The New Mexico wine industry welcomed two new wineries to its fold last year. Los Luceros located in the small village of Alcalde in northern New Mexico and Casa Rondena, in Albuquerque’s picturesque northern valley, opened in 1998. Sabinal Vineyard, the only certified organic vineyard in New Mexico, changed owners and reopened its doors as Sisneros-Torres Vineyards and Winery. New Mexico’s oldest winery, La Vina, moved to a new location just five miles south from its present location to Anthony, N.M. A number of small vineyards are popping up throughout the state and there is an increase in the number of inquiries received regarding grapegrowing in New Mexico.
The consensus on last year’s harvest is that it was the best yet and the quality of grapes exceeded expectations due to ideal weather conditions. The 1998 harvest ran a few weeks late as compared to 1997. This trend was evident throughout the state.
Diseases are under control due to aggressive vineyard management practices. The most commonly talked about disease is powdery mildew but last year it was not a problem due to the dry conditions and low humidity. Leafhoppers were sighted in New Mexico but they generally were not a problem due to frequent spraying.
Vineyard expansion is occurring slowly but steadily with the majority of growth taking place in southern New Mexico. A coalition of grape growers planted 30 acres of new vines in the Tularosa Basin region using own-rooted stock. Approximately 25% of these acres consist of Sangiovese and Syrah and the remaining acres are planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Symphony and Gewurztraminer. Approximately another 100 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel are expected to be planted in southern New Mexico this year.
The future of the New Mexico wine industry looks good due to vineyards coming into full production and the dedication of the grape growers and winemakers to fine-tuning their craft. The level of experience and expertise in growing grapes and making wine is climbing exponentially resulting in nationally-competitive wines. The promising outlook is also a result of the industry coming together to conduct and support necessary research and to promote the wine industry as a whole.
FINGER LAKES by Tim Martinson Area Extension Specialist, Cornell University
In Central New York, wine grape growers enjoyed an exceptional year. Following a very mild winter, bud burst occurred three weeks ahead of normal. Frost in late April injured 20% of native labrusca-type grapes, but vinifera and hybrids escaped injury.
Ten days of cool, wet weather during bloom (early June) reduced set, primarily in native and some hybrid varieties. Harvest of all varieties was two-four weeks early, with even maturity and low incidence of botrytis in susceptible varieties. Yields were off by 30% in Concords and other native varieties, and hybrids were variable.
Vinifera grapes escaped winter injury and poor set, producing a record crop (up 11% from 1997). Warm, dry weather at harvest produced exceptionally uniform ripeness, dense color, and mature tannins in red varieties.
Prices received for white and red vinifera grapes remained stable; prices for natives increased from four-six percent over 1997, and red hybrid prices increased by 15% over 1997, reflecting strong demand and short supply.
Interest in new plantings has continued, with significant acreage of Riesling and Cabernet franc being planted. Three new wineries opened in the Finger Lakes in 1998.
LONG ISLAND by Alice Wise Cornell Cooperative Extension, Suffolk County
The ’98 season was another hot season on Long Island. Despite many overcast and rainy days in the early spring, the average temperatures were higher than normal, resulting in a bloom period roughly 7-10 days earlier than average. Bloom took place on most varieties towards the end of June when cool, wet weather prevailed. As a result, set in some blocks was less than optimal, particularly in sensitive varieties like Merlot and Gewurztraminer. In spite of this, average yields were higher for the region than in 1997. The rainy period also led to the development of some early downy mildew. Vigilant growers were able to control downy and prevent cluster infections.
The weather was very warm and dry through the remainder of summer. Accumulated growing degree days were over 3,300 which is significantly above the average for the region. As a result of an earlier bloom, many varieties ripened slightly earlier with the first Chardonnays harvested the third week of September. Bunch rot was virtually nonexistent. The warmer temperatures in ’98 led to intensive flavor and aroma development, high sugars and moderate to low acids, making some very supple red wines. Cabernet Sauvignon seems to have benefited most from these conditions, having had more time to ripen than in previous vintages, with good tannin development and lower levels of total acidity. While ’98 was a good year, some feel fruit quality in ’97 was higher, probably due to the lower cropping levels in ’97.
Long Island is still undergoing a boom in vineyard plantings. New vineyards will again be planted in ’99. Several individuals are also in the process of purchasing land for vineyard development. Good vineyard land can be had for $10-15,000 per acre. This would be land without development rights; that is, the right to develop the land was sold to town or county government or to a private organization. For this reason, Suffolk County, which encompasses the eastern half of Long Island, has been a leader in innovative land preservation strategies. This has helped to mitigate the intense development pressure that exists on the East End of Long Island.
New plantings include a number of proven varieties as well as some experimental plantings. Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet franc continue to be the most popular, while Pinot gris, Pinot noir, Viognier, Malbec, Syrah, Sangiovese have been planted recently. There is also great promise in the Dijon clones of Chardonnay, which seem to be well-suited to the temperate climate. There is also considerable interest in the Merlot clones 181 and 314. Spacing in new vineyards generally ranges from 7-8 ft. between rows and 46 ft. between vines within a row. Drip irrigation is gaining popularity given the recent droughty years.
Overall the wine industry on Long Island is in a period of significant growth. Interest in vineyards and wineries will remain high for the foreseeable future.
by John F. Griggs Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center
1998 was an interesting year in the grape growing region in the Northwest. Due to an early spring, some growers experienced a lot of frost damage in their vineyards. As a result, the overall tonnage was a bit below average this year. However, grape quality and increased prices in the Concord and Niagara markets made these setbacks a little easier to take.
The labrusca varieties mentioned above are the primary grapes grown in this region. However, the Northwest also has four wineries that produce a wide variety of wines. This creates a market for hybrids and vinifera varieties also. 1998 gave us a very dry growing season with a lot of sunshine and, as a result, the quality of our wine grapes as well as our juice grapes was very high.
The insect and disease situation along the Lake Erie grape belt was very favorable in 1998. Due to the factors listed above, pressures from the common pests stayed low. If standard control procedures were practiced, problems were held to a minimum and extra sprays generally were not necessary.
One of the primary concerns in the grape industry is the effect that the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) will have. The possible elimination of some standard industry pesticides could greatly increase the cost of producing high-quality grapes. For this reason we are encouraging growers and anyone in the grape industry to contact their legislators and express their concerns about FQPA.
Viticulture in Northwest Pennsylvania is currently very healthy. Prices are up and research and education programs are expanding. Although our area has lost some prime vineyard land to development, new programs are being taken advantage of to insure that farmland is being preserved.
by George Ray McEachern Extension Horticulturist Texas A & M University
The 1998 Texas wine crop was the greatest ever. The winter was cool and wet and the growing season was hot and dry, very dry. Much of the state went without rain from April to harvest. The summer temperatures were the hottest on record, with much of the state recording 50 or more consecutive days with daily high temperatures above 100[degrees]F. However, as the state entered harvest season temperatures fell and growers experienced a long rain-free harvest period. Problems with weeds, disease and insects did not exist. Wine grapes were the only agricultural crop to make it through the summer looking good. The season was a win/win for growers and wineries as most of the fruit was sold at a good price and winemakers were able to get the fruit they needed.
The second big plus for 1998 was that no new Pierce’s Disease (P.D.) outbreaks occurred in 1998. Some vineyards in central Texas lost vines, however. Hopefully, the winter of 1998-99 will continue to be cold to reduce P.D. problems. Vineyards continue to be planted in the Texas Hill Country and north central Texas despite 1996 losses to P.D.
A number of vineyards are being planted north and west of Houston using P.D. tolerant varieties. LeNoir, Blanc du Bois and Cynthiana are the major varieties being planted.
Texas said farewell to two important leaders of the industry. Don Brady, winemaker at Ste. Genevieve moved to the “easy does it” wine world of California; while Lisa Allen, who did a great job running the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association for three years, is going to graduate school.
At the close of the year, 28 Texas grape growers and winemakers toured the major wine regions of Tuscany for 10 days. They were able to see a wide range of canopy systems which are being used for Sangiovese.
by Tony K. Wolf Viticulturist, Virginia Tech
As is often the case, the weather seemed to be the center of attention during 1998’s growing season. season. Temperatures during the ’97-’98 winter were well above average, and there was essentially no winter cold injury reported in the state’s primary grape production regions. The warm winter was followed by a warm spring and early bud-break; Chardonnay at the Winchester Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) broke buds around 3 April, almost three weeks earlier than average. The early bud break translated to a harvest advanced by approximately two weeks. Many areas of the state experienced moderate to severe drought conditions by late summer. Again, using Winchester AREC as an example, precipitation was above average from March through June, but well below average every month of the rest of the year. Non-irrigated vineyards and those on poor soils suffered some degree of drought stress as early as the first of August. Despite the drought, crop quality – in general – was excellent: fruit was clean (little or no fruit rots), with good sugar levels and varietal character. After mid-September, fruit pH started elevating somewhat more rapidly as the heat of late summer persisted into fall.
Grape prices have increased slightly as demand exceeds supply of Virginia fruit; typically, vintners are paying from $1,200 to $1,400 per ton for high-quality Chardonnay, Merlot, and other vinifera. The 1998 grape production data will not be available from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services until this month (February). Estimates, however, are in excess of 3,000 tons, with about 1,600 acres under cultivation. The sustained, lop-sided demand/supply picture has heightened the interest in new vineyard operations, and several new operations were started in 1998, or are “on order” for 1999 planting. There are currently 52 licensed wineries. Varieties of interest among new vineyards generally parallel the current acreage patterns: Chardonnay, Cabernet franc, and Merlot are principal favorites. Other varieties of interest include Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Petit Verdot, several interspecific hybrids, and several Portuguese and Spanish varieties.
Both the immediate and longer-term outlook for the grape and winery industries in Virginia appear good; consumer demand is fueling industry growth, the weather has been tolerable, and enthusiasm is high.
by Wade Wolfe General Manager, Hogue Cellars
The 1998 wine grape crush is estimated at 70,000 tons, down from the predicted 77,000 tons, but still a state record. The shortfall was due to a protracted hot spell that stressed vines and reduced yields. Despite this, the record was achieved due to a significant increase in newly-bearing vines. The juice grape harvest, mostly Concords, was 153,000 tons, down 100,000 tons from 1997. The smaller Concord harvest was expected due to a large crop in 1997, but was further compounded by the high temperatures. Production of wine grapes by variety and their average price will be available from the Washington Department of Agriculture by February 1.
Grape prices remained high for a third consecutive year. Syrah and Sangiovese were in high demand due to interest and scarcity, with prices as high as $1,600/ton. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were next with a suggested price of $1,200/ton by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Following these were Cabernet franc and Chardonnay at around $900 to $1,000/ton, Sauvignon blanc and Semillon near $700/ton, and Gewurztraminer, Chenin blanc and Riesling in the $450-600/ton price range. Small quantities of Pinot gris came in at Chardonnay prices. Further adjustments for quality bonuses and payments by the acre will increase some prices. The Concord price was $260/ton at 16 [degrees] Brix.
Weather was the big story for the season, but quite different from California’s experience. Winter was extremely mild with just slightly above average precipitation. Spring was typical. Starting in late June, however, temperatures climbed above normal and remained there until October. Consequently, accumulated heat units at WSU’s research station in the Yakima Valley was one of the highest on record and only 120 units below the all-time high of 2,997 recorded in 1958. Growers were advised to adopt less aggressive canopy management strategies to reduce fruit exposure and sunburn. Vines responded with reduced berry set, smaller berries, lower yield per acre, and earlier ripening than normal. Preliminary evaluation of wines indicates very high quality in all varieties and reds in particular.
Insect problems were inconsequential, but mites were monitored closely and occasionally treated. Mildew pressure was very low. No other serious pest problems were encountered. Phylloxera remains a research curiosity.
Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah continue to dominate new plantings. Syrah will become the fifth most widely-planted variety in Washington State behind Riesling shortly after the century turn. Interest in Italian, other Rhone and lesser Bordeaux varieties remains exploratory. Limited new plantings of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Lemberger will be made in the Yakima Valley for the first time since the mid-1980s. Perhaps the biggest non-weather industry news is entry by other agricultural players in the vine-planting spree. Turndowns in apple, wheat, potato and cattle markets have left these growers searching for other profitable crops.
Grape and wine research sponsored by the Wine Advisory Board remains focused on phylloxera rootstock trials, powdery mildew biology and control, predicting vine yield components, impact of cultural practices on wine quality and stuck fermentations. Other projects of interest include biological control of powdery mildew and crown gall, causes of the Black Leaf condition in Concords and wine grapes, and the environment of grow tubes and vine response.
New Gewurztraminer from Claiborne & Churchill
The San Luis Obispo winery produced six barrels (133 cases) of 1997 Cuvee Fredericka barrel select reserve wine, the first Claiborne & Churchill reserve Gewurztraminer. The wine was fermented by indigenous yeast to complete dryness, in the style of Alsatian Gewurztraminer. The wine carries a suggested retail price of $16 a bottle.
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