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Vintners hope grape harvest stays dry

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Ron Schmidt, owner of Cedar Creek Winery in Star Tannery, looks over his cabernet franc grapes that he plans to start picking this week. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Sally Voth svoth@nvdaily.com

Area vintners are hoping the region stays dry for the next couple of weeks while many vineyards are in the midst of grape harvesting.

"We've finished the whites," said Emma Randel, owner of Shenandoah Vineyards, on Wednesday.

A seasonal crew of pickers began harvesting the Riesling grapes at the Edinburg vineyards last week and were done by Thursday or Friday, she said.

"The reds are still hanging a little longer," Randel said. "We're hoping that there's not much more rain between now and a couple weeks before they will be harvested. So far, it seems to be going pretty well."

Saturday marks the vineyards' annual harvest festival, which will include wine tasting, seminars, events for kids, music and, of course, grape stomping.

Sunshine and dry conditions are ideal for harvest-time.

"If you have water, the juice gets diluted, so it's not as sweet and not as [flavorful]," Randel said. "With rain and moisture, you have more chance of rot."

Jeff White, owner/winemaker at Glen Manor Vineyards in Warren County, is also keeping an eye on the skies.

"Rain is always a worry, but it's better than last year," he said. "We had a very wet September last year, and so this year so far, it's been really kind of normal. Isaac really didn't impact us. I've brought in about 6 tons of grapes so far, and they were beautiful and very tasty. I have a lot more to bring in later this month and next month.

"We're pretty much at Mother Nature's whims now, [and] all year. The weather can either make us or break us at this point. We're hoping for dry, sunny days and cool, crisp nights."

White does the picking with his full-time farm employees.

"We have a small operation -- 14-and-a-half-acres -- so we can pretty much do it ourselves," he said.

While the Sauvignon blanc grapes have been picked, the red Bordeaux blend will start being harvested in about two weeks, according to White. The wines from the latter won't be ready until at least 2014, while the white will be available in the spring.

On Friday, Ron Schmidt, owner and winemaker at Cedar Creek Winery in Star Tannery, will gather some neighbors and start picking Chardonnay grapes.

"It's going to take us about four hours depending on the amount of people we have," he said.

The grapes used to make Cabernet Franc will be picked in a few weeks, depending on their acidity and brix -- the sugar content -- according to Schmidt.

"This growing has been pretty good," he said. "The fruit looks good. Last year was a catastrophe. We dumped about 3-4 tons of Cab Franc we didn't even pick."

Shenandoah County vintners have been fortunate in that the region has escaped much of the heavy rain, Schmidt said. Winemakers don't want to see much rain after veraison -- "that's when the fruit starts turning [ripe]," he said.

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