Local wineries across the area are feeling the effects of the intense summer heat and the June 29 derecho.
The quality of wine grapes is dependent more on precipitation than sunlight, but intense heat and dry weather can negatively affect fruit.
At The Winery at Bull Run, there is an automatic irrigation system in place to ensure the grapes obtain enough water.
“A vine is just like a tree – it is gathering nutrients from the ground,” Hickox said.
While sunlight can pose a slight threat and occasionally burn the skin of grapes, owner Jon Hickox said it is not a large concern. “The sunlight is good for it if anything,” Hickox said.
Kirk Wiles, owner of Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, said this summer season has been on the drier side. He said the season started out strong with a prime amount of rainfall but over the past month “the rain not being here…has slowed the vines down”.
The Winery at Bull Run has 1400 grape plants on the property. What risk the sunlight poses to the grapes is typically offset by canopies above the fruit. The grapes grow along a vine and leaves develop above the grapes, naturally shielding them from the sunlight.
Severe winds and hail, such as what some experienced in the June 29 derecho storm, can damage the canopies. Hickox said his grape vines were fortunate enough to not have been affected by the wind.
“It’s the extremes that hurt the grapes,” Hickox said. “Fortunately my vines were mature enough not to be stripped of their leaves.”
Too Hot to Sit Outside
The heat wave over the past two weeks has impacted wineries in other ways. Multiple days were 100 degrees or more, detracting people from visiting wineries, which often have partial outdoor settings.
Wiles said his winery, Paradise Springs, is fortunate because it has a large air-conditioned space.
“I think the most amount of impact (from the heat) comes in the tasting room,” Wiles said.
Hickox said he estimates about half of customers come to the winery to sit outdoors. Temperatures above 90 degrees tend to cause customers to reconsider visiting the winery because the heat can “get to the point where it’s unbearable outside,” Hickox said.
Aside from the tasting and tourism business, the wineries also bottle wine for sale. 55 degrees is the optimal temperature to keep crates of wine at but sudden temperature changes can damage the wine.
“It’s not so much the temperature, it’s the temperature swing,” Hickox said.
The Winery at Bull Run lost its power June 29 and did not have it restored until July 3. The built-in back-up generator failed after two days. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of wine was at risk of being lost if the room had remained without climate control for a few more days.
Bottled wine is kept 12 feet underground and is surrounded my concrete walls to ensure it is properly insulated. Hickox monitored the temperature on a daily basis from an iPhone application which was set to alert him if the cellar reached 65 degrees, which it did not do before the power was turned back on.
“At the end of the day, it is just farming,” Hickox said. “We’ve set it up for the best scenario for that stuff that is beyond our control.”