Summer drought stresses grape crops

2012-07-25T03:00:00Z 2014-10-06T11:46:06Z Summer drought stresses grape cropsChris Scholomiti, Special to The Citizen Auburn Citizen

After warm periods in March, April and June, July has been a scorcher; the temperature in the Fosterville vineyard recently hit 102 degrees! Summer is here and it’s hot, and we haven’t had much rain. We had measurable rain on June 18 in both of the vineyards and then nothing until July 14; and then just half an inch. On the upper part of the Fosterville vineyard, the younger vines are on well-drained soil with full exposure to the southwest sun, and in the last week, drought stress is readily apparent. The leaves are turning yellow then brown, and then falling off. The Owasco vineyard has an eastern-facing slope and is a bit cooler because of the lake, and the vines are faring much better there. Irrigation would be nice, and it’s something I’m seriously thinking about for next year.

Meanwhile, what can we do? We keep the weed growth down in the rows under the vines, and the cover crop cut real short in between the rows; this minimizes competition for what little moisture we have in the ground. We can also remove fruit from the vines that are in bad shape, allowing the canopy to remain hydrated, rather than the grapes. Better to have no fruit this year and vines next year! Grape-growing can sometimes be a gamble, and it sure looks like it this year. The one positive thing about the dry, hot weather is minimum mildew disease pressure. We continue to spray on 14-day intervals to be sure downy or powdery mildew won’t pop up if we suddenly get a week of wet weather. Last year it was hot and dry until Aug. 1, then we experienced three months of unusually wet weather — you just never know!

The hot weather has also slowed down canopy growth, so we haven’t had to do as much hedging as usual. Hedging is done when the vines grow over the top of the trellis and droop down; we get out the hedge shears and lop off the tops to prevent shading of the grape clusters, and this promotes better air circulation to minimize mildew formation. We haven’t seen any Japanese beetles yet, which is good. We don’t need them chewing on the remaining leaves on the drought-stressed vines!

In the winery, we continue to bottle some of the 2010 red vintages and some of the 2011 white wines. The 2010 dry reds are superb; we had lots of heat and plenty of rain to make the perfect season back in 2010. You can taste it in the wines: the Finger Lakes reds are full-bodied, with lots of tannins, great flavors and wonderful aromas, and the whites are clean and crisp, with just the right amount of acid to be food-friendly. We also start to prepare for the upcoming crush and winemaking. We order the yeasts, yeast nutrients and malolactic cultures we’ll need in the fall. We review our cellar for oak barrels to determine how many new ones we’ll order. In August, the crusher, de-stemmer and the press get cleaned and inspected to be sure they’ll be ready to go! It’s going to be a wild time in the winery in less than two months!

June and July have been very busy in the tasting room, with lots of visitors from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and downstate New York. The Finger Lakes is a fantastic vacation area, and it’s only a few hours away from some major metropolitan areas. This weekend, take a trip to your favorite local Finger Lakes winery and walk through their vineyards and check out the vines, and while you’re there, taste some of the great wines being produced right here in your backyard.

Chris Scholomiti is co-owner and winemaker at CJS Vineyards & Aurelius Winery, located at 6900 Fosterville Road, Auburn. For more information, visit www.cjsvineyards.com or email wine@cjsvineyards.com.

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