BLOOMINGTON – Area winemakers are finding little to whine about in this year's grape harvest, which is well underway.
“It's been a fun year,” said Jim Butler, owner and winemaker at Butler Winery and Vineyards northeast of Bloomington. “Last year was not as much fun.”
The heads of area wineries seem to be telling similar stories about their vineyards. Yields are up. Quality looks good. Thank goodness this year doesn't look like the last.
In 2012, blazing heat and drought stunted many grapes. Red varieties did well, but the heat boiled delicate flavors out of white grapes and made it hard to produce some types of wine, according to Butler.
“We watered grapes for the first time in 20 years last year,” he told The Herald-Times. “We usually do a Chambourcin Rose. Last year we didn't do it.”
Butler is looking forward to making a Chambourcin Rose this year, he said. His winery is nearly out of its 2011 vintage, so he's happy to have a 2013 in the works.
That 2013 vintage will come after a growing season that was much easier on vineyards than 2012's.
This spring and early summer had enough precipitation. There may even have been too much moisture for comfort, according to Butler.
Then the weather turned hot and dry in August – just in time to start a several-week stretch Oliver Winery President Bill Oliver called the ripening period. Hot weather in the ripening period is a good thing, he said.
“The quality is virtually determined in the last six weeks,” Oliver said. “We were a little concerned with that cool stretch that lasted until early August. We didn't have enough heat to get stuff ripe, but we really turned it on in August, and we had that three-week stretch of heat. It's going to be a fantastic year.”
Aromatic whites and roses are looking very good at Oliver's Creekbend Vineyard northeast of Ellettsville, according to Oliver. He predicted a particularly strong year for Traminette coming from the vineyard.
It is, however, too early to know how many of this year's drier red grapes will fare, he added. Creekbend needs about two more weeks of warm weather for them to ripen into a strong crop.
Anthony Leaderbrand, one of four family members who own Owen Valley Winery to the south of Spencer, also thinks this year is looking much better than last. But he blamed a culprit besides heat and drought for a tough 2012: a burst of cold temperatures late in the spring that nipped bud after bud.
“I lit fires out here last year to try to keep the heat in, and it failed,” he said. “We had second buds that did produce, but we didn't have nearly the crop we would have. This year is a much different story.”
When 2013 started, winemakers weren't taking a better year for granted. Even after last year ended, they worried its adverse conditions would affect this year's grapes.
“We were concerned last year's dry period would negatively impact the crops this year,” Oliver said. “Usually, the crop for the following year is set the previous year.”
Fortunately, vineyards seem to have bounced back.
“Grape vines are tougher than we all suspect they are,” Oliver said.