Grape crop: low quantity, high quality

By Katie Demeria

EDINBURG — Two rows of grape vines stand next to each other at Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery. One is overflowing with large bunches of grapes. The other looks like it is barely surviving.

Some area vineyards suffered after this year’s harsh winter, according to Tony Wolf, viticulturist with the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Will Elledge, owner of Wolf Gap, has the vines to prove it.

Elledge’s chardonnay vines took a beating from the cold weather and frost damage, and failed to produce any fruit. But his chambourcin grapes have thrived this year.

“Chardonnay is really, really picky,” he said. “Everything has to be just right, or it’s not going to participate. It’s the antithesis of the chambourcin. They’re coming on strong.”

“The problem was, the late frost damaged a lot of the blossoms,” he added. “So even if the vine wasn’t harmed, there was no fruit on it because the blossoms were damaged.”

Wolf pointed out that last year’s harsh winter was a new occurrence for many farmers.

“We haven’t had winter, low-temperature injury in the last 12-14 years, with the exception of this past winter,” he said. “There was cold air, and then warming, and that back-and-forth, seesaw motion caused some of the damage we saw in area vineyards.”

But the grapes that did survive this year have had some pleasant growing weather. Overall, Wolf called this year a “pretty good season.”

Rainfall totals for the year are slightly above normal, Wolf said, but most of that occurred early in the season.

“We had a half-inch of rain for September, which is, for grapes, actually a good thing,” he said.

Grapes like dry weather, Wolf said, especially at this time of year, when the chief nemeses are hurricanes and cool, cloudy days.

The anticipation for grapes this year is that there will be a low quantity, but high quality. Elledge is seeing the same trend in his vineyard.

His chardonnay grapes were a disappointment, though possibly not as disappointing as they could have been, he said. While the vines were damaged, new shoots began to grow in the roots of those that died. Rather than replacing 2,000 vines, he will have to replace only 300.

Those vines are a stark contrast with the chambourcin.

“They’re loaded with grapes,” he said of his chambourcin vines.

Their survival is useful for the winery, too. Chambourcin grapes are versatile, he said, and can be used in several wines. His chambourcin wines do consistently well in competitions as well, he said.

Elledge has 5 acres of grapes, one of each of his varieties: chambourcin, chardonnay, traminette, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Each acre supports about 750 vines.

His chambourcin are likely to yield between 4 and 6 tons this year.

“We’ll be lucky to get 500 pounds off the rest,” he added.

Luckily, Elledge added, the winery is small enough that he was able to keep many wines in their inventory. This will be a lean year, he said, as was 2012 and 2013. But from 2005, when he and his wife started, to 2011, the crops were good. They have been able to depend on the stock built from those years.

“You just take each wave as it comes,” he said.

Visit Wolf Gap at 123 Stout Road, Edinburg, or online at http://www.wolfgapvineyard.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com