Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rain adding extra layer of work to Pennsylvania growing season, especially in the southeast part

One of the main cogs in the wine wheel in Pennsylvania is Mark Chein, the state's wine grape educator or, as I just like to call him, our grape Yoda. He's always been easy for me to track down, he loves talking about growing grapes and wines, and despite my being a novice has never talked down to me. Plus, the guy gets around, between seminars and just popping in on wineries. His monthly newsletters are full of news (I only wish he'd decide to continue editorializing a bit; Mark, MISS YOUR 2 CENTS). So thought it worth sharing his assessment on the growing season. From the standpoint of being a sports editor, I've seen it as a wet spring and summer, with games being postponed every other day. Reading his take on conditions, what I've seen from my office is what he has seen trudging around multiple vineyards. Might be a bit technical for some of you not in the business of growing grapes, but the message comes through loud and clear, and it should give you more of an appreciation of what these folks go through every year. Here's an excerpt.

"As we close in on veraison the weather becomes an even more important concern to wine growers and so far, at least in SE PA, the signs are not encouraging. Heavy showers persist in the region. One vineyard in Chester County reported almost 5" of rain over the weekend - hardly suitable grape ripening conditions and it exacerbates vine vigor and disease problems that are already on the margin of control in many vineyards. Dry conditions will help to slow vegetative growth and focus the vine's attention on fruit ripening. Admittedly we have very little say about this and can only hope that the current weather pattern of regular showers in SE PA will change. It has complicated the disease situation immensely. Growers have sprayed up to a dozen times by now and made 3-4 hedging passes to keep the canopies under control. Leaves look pretty ragged, as they would much later in the season with a tough, brittle texture and beat-up appearance. Fruit set was highly variable so yield estimating is a challenge. Continued aggressive canopy management will also help - hedging when necessary, leaf and/or lateral removal, even shoot positioning. Under these conditions, more aggressive leaf removal on both sides of the vine can be justified, although sunburn is a risk if a heat spike occurs. The additional aeration and spray penetration will help mitigate disease. Removing ill-positioned, unripe and powdery mildew-affected clusters after veraison will help. Adjusting crop load in a season like this is a tricky affair. With this kind of late season vine vigor, the fruit is an energy sink that helps to moderate shoot growth to some extent. So if crop can be left on, even past the normal lag phase thinning period, it would be helpful in controlling vigor. However, if harvest is going to be late and challenging, overcropping vines is the last thing a grower wants to do. Wine quality is still the key goal and finding just the right balance between amount of foliage and fruit is the key to success. It is an extremely challenging year. Dry (moisture and humidity) weather will be the best antidote for this vintage. All we can hope for is a change in the jet stream. But get ready for a challenging harvest."

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