Some vineyard owners casting a wary eye on rain clouds

The recent streaks of cold, rainy weather have been bringing down more than just everyone’s good mood as more and more vineyards feel the effects of the inclement weather.

Prolonged periods of moisture caused by the rain can invite bacteria to grow in the plants, leading to diseased and damaged crops. In the Shenandoah Valley, where April and May have been chillier and wetter than usual, some local wineries are anxious for the future.

“The big concern now is if this rain continues,” said Randy Phillips, owner of Cave Ridge Vineyard. “In the next two to three weeks we’ll have a flowering occurring. Diseases come in through the flowers, and show themselves in the fall when the grapes become ripe.”

Phillips said there are some measures to counter the excess moisture. He sprays his crops with extra bits of fungicide to keep the malevolent bacteria out.

In addition to the extra spray treatments, he said one of the best preventative measures is to add some extra effort to keep the vineyard regularly mowed and to pull weeds and unwanted vegetation by hand.

“In a nutshell, we’re going to have to work harder this year to produce a good crop,” he said.

Another local winery, Wolf Gap Vineyard, has been hit by more than just the rain. Will “Wolf Gap” Elledge said he lost a couple hundred vines over the winter. After spraying his vines with fungicide, he’s not worried about the excess rain and thinks it will help his crops in the end.

“Farming is a crapshoot,” Elledge said. “If everything is OK from here on, we should be fine, but who knows what will happen tomorrow. We’re really more concerned about good weather come August, September and October in the ripening season anyways.”

Elledge added the rain has also stopped some of his plants from progressing into the blooming season, which shortens their ripening season.

“Hopefully the sun will come out,” he said.

Some wine producers are riding out the storm and are far from shaking in their boots. Emma F. Randel runs Shenandoah Vineyards, and she’s had no issues with the rain or frost so far, and said she doesn’t see any coming in the near future.

Randel says the key is vigilance in spraying one’s plants, and reacting to the weather appropriately and proportionally.

Along with Randel, Jeff White, owner and grower of Glen Manor Vineyards, isn’t rattled by the high precipitation levels. He lost a few crops due to the frosts in early April, but has had no issues with the rain.

He hasn’t added any extra fungicides yet. He said he thinks they would only be washed off by the rain, and the process itself would damage the already saturated soil in the application process.

“I’m not worried,” White said. “I’ve been doing this for 24 years, I don’t get too worried. It’s wet, but we’ve gone through periods like this many times in the wine growing world.”

For Phillips, he says it’s years like this that good farmers need to use all the knowledge they’ve put together over the years to make it through.

As the season progresses, despite the bad luck early on, Phillips isn’t worried.

“It doesn’t do any good to worry,” he said. “I worry about things I have control over, and I have no control over this. I’ve learned you just have to take it as it comes.”

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com