Grape harvest boosted for region

After a year of up-and-down weather, the fall harvest for grape producers in the Northern Shenandoah Valley appeared to have ended more positive than previous seasons.

Tony Wolf, professor of viticulture and director at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, said that he would classify 2015 as “a very high quality vintage year” despite some late-season rainfall.

Wolf noted that quality in the harvest grapes depended on the specific varieties, but that the region saw a pretty good growing season overall.

“A lot of our early-maturing stuff came in a little bit early. We were running a week to 10 days ahead of schedule due to the hot and dry summer we had,” Wolf said.

Wolf added, “Some of our white varieties, things like chardonnay … those varieties came in at the end of September and looked really very good. We had some excellent fruit quality.”

Tyler Newcomb, co-owner and vineyard manager of Valerie Hill Vineyards in Stephens City, noted that 2015 was the first year that they were able to harvest grapes.

Newcomb helped opened Valerie Hill in 2012, and noted that this season was “a very good” first harvest for the vineyard.

“The majority of the summer was warm, but very dry – that’s exactly what we as grape growers are looking for,” Newcomb said, noting that he even completed picking his grapes before the Hurricane Joaquin-related rain.

“We were fortunate … my fruit ripened early enough that I didn’t have to worry about some of those prolonged rains that we had a couple of weeks ago,” Newcomb said.

For producers like Ron Schmidt, of Cedar Creek Winery in Star Tannery, that extended period of rain did not seem to have a heavy impact on the harvest.

“We had kind of wet weather in the spring, then it was real dry throughout the summer, which was good,” Schmidt said, noting that it “would have been catastrophic for a lot of the wineries” if Hurricane Joaquin had come through the state.

On the same token, Schmidt said, “The fruit that came in before the rain was better than the fruit that came in after the rain, but it wasn’t that bad – at least out here.”

On the late September rain, Wolf said, “We could have done without that, but in hind sight, it didn’t have quite as much impact as we had feared – possibly because the weather was so cool at the time.”

Other producers were forced to wrap up their late fall harvests slightly earlier than expected due to a frost that hit the valley last week.

Brad Foster, of North Mountain Vineyards, said that they completed most of their harvest before last week’s frost, but were forced to harvest those grapes earlier than expected.

However, Foster said that he is expecting to produce some very good wines off of this year’s grape harvest, noting they have “a good amount of fruit in the cellar.”

“A good problem to have is we’re running short of tank space, but we’ll squeeze it somehow,” Foster said.

Newcomb noted that they were able to harvest three of the five-planted acres they have at Valerie Hill. He said that he is expecting great quality from the grapes that they are looking to bottle at the vineyard.

Wolf said, “I think what we’re going to see is some really nice wines coming out of this season.”

Wolf added that the 2015 yields and tonnage of grapes appear to be up from previous years for the state. This could be good news for a bustling Virginia wine industry that is experiencing a shortage of grapes.

As the research center is gearing up for and registering interested parties for a beginning grape grower’s course in November, Wolf said that he is seeing an increased interest in this facet of the industry.

“Some of our established vineyards are expanding and the industry is doing very well,” Wolf said.

“I think there will be continued pressure, though, for Virginia grown fruit in the future, because there’s always going to be more wineries coming online,” Wolf said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or