DOBSON — While vineyards to the south of Surry County have had their crops nearly eliminated due to an unexpected frost last April, county growers are faring a little better, according to Gill Giese, lead instructor of viticulture and enology at Surry Community College.
But that doesn’t mean growers can start counting their money yet, since during this critical growing stage, an ill-timed rain could devastate this year’s crop.
“Generally it was warmer earlier in the spring and the vines started growing, then the frost came and wiped out the crop for a lot of growers in areas like Lake Norman, Statesville and Mocksville,” Giese said.
But county growers seem to have a better than average crop at this point, due mainly to commercial wind technology that allows growers to circulate the warmer air to the ground.
“That helps the grapes to overcome frost events,” he said, noting that to his knowledge local growers have a bumper crop on the vines.
That, however, doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods for this year’s growing season.
“Right now, most of the area growers are in a stage of growth known as veraison, where the grapes are starting to color, soften and accumulate sugars,” Giese said. “This is a very critical time and people are starting to get nervous.”
Noting that “anything could happen at this point,” due to the potential for a tropical depression over the coast, Giese said a downpour of rain at the wrong time could critically damage this year’s crop.
“Hot weather, if it’s dry, isn’t too bad,” he said. “But if it gets extremely hot and the growers have pulled leaves off the plant to allow sun and air to get to the grapes, it can burn up the crop, but on the other end of it, the worse case scenario would be rain.”
An ill-timed rain could cause the skin of the grapes to split, allowing harmful organisms and insects into the plant.
“If it doesn’t cause the grapes to split or rot, it will raise the humidity levels and promote harmful fungus diseases,” Giese said. “That’s one of the major challenges facing growers in this region, the humidity.”
While a backyard grower can take time with individual plants, pulling back leaves and keeping an eye on each plant, commercial growers are often more at the mercy of the weather.
“The backyard person can do a lot more than a commercial producer because they generally have fewer plants,” he said. “They can reposition leaves to allow the sun and air to get to the plants, but they generally can’t take as much time with each plant.”
Growers also can choose a grape variety that produces grapes more conducive to the wines they’re trying to produce.
“When you talk about a commercial vineyard, these growers aren’t looking at it like they’re growing grapes,” Giese said. “They’re looking at it like they’re growing wine.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.