Rainy year spelled potential trouble for wine makers

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Last year was very rainy, and few parts of the Virginia economy were as hard hit as the agricultural areas, especially grape growers and winemakers.

“It was the worst year I have ever seen in 33 years,” said Virginia Tech's Tony Wolf, a professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences who is based in Winchester.

He says rain, especially in the month to month and a half before the harvest, tends to result in the grapes absorbing water.

This causes the sugars and flavor compounds in the grapes to be diluted, which means the resulting wines will not have the aroma and flavor they would have under drier conditions.

“Red grapes, depending on variety, might not develop the skin color density that we would like for a deeply pigmented red wine,” added Wolf. “This might result from prolonged cloudy weather and cooler conditions associated with the rainy weather.”

And he raises concerns about the persistent wetting of fruit and vines, which can increase disease pressure, especially from fungal diseases.

However, there are some things wine producers can do to not be completely at the mercy of weather conditions.

Wolf says wine producers need to exercise something called “canopy management,” which is a practice used to modify the arrangement and placement of leaves as well as the distribution and quantity of leaves on the vine.

Still, he says there are several reasons Virginia's wine industry will be fine despite the weather, especially because of significant growth and the generated economic impact it has annually.

Wold says most wineries tend to grow different varieties of grapes in order to have a buffer against bad years for a particular variety.

Also, since wines on the market are from grapes grown two to three years ago in many cases, an inventory of good or better wines can help a winery ride out a bad year.

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