Grapes have been around for a long time, and because they come back on an existing stem each year, those who grow wine grapes watch factors such as last frost date, spring storm risks, summer heat levels, and fall rainfall expectations.
A Perfect Winter in NC
The winter of 2018 – 2019 was rough in a few spots in the United States, but things in North Carolina were just about perfect. Yes, it got cold, but the vines escaped with no frost damage. Because the grape vines were able to stay safely dormant throughout the winter without getting too beaten up by the cold, the 2019 Vintage Wine crop was off to a great start.
When the liquid inside a grape vine freezes, even if the plant is dormant, cell walls can burst. This cell wall damage means that the plant loses integrity, wilts, and any early leaves shrivel up and fall away. While the vine will probably come back eventually, you won’t get much of a bloom on a freshly frozen vine, and the fluid flowing to the grapes on that vine may be rather anemic. Some grape vine damage can be so severe that the vine must be trimmed back to the healthiest rootstock so the plant can be retrained to the arbor.
A Gentle Spring
The flowers that blossom on a grape vine serve as the start for the grapes that will eventually grow there. Once you’re past the risk of a hard freeze, there is always the possibility that a heavy rainstorm, or worse, hail, will come through and knock all the flowers off.
No flowers left on the vine means no grapes. Badly damaged flowers from heavy, hard-hitting rain means fewer grapes. While the vines do need water to set grapes from flowers, heavy or torrential rains will generally run off without soaking in effectively and leave the plants badly battered. The Yadkin Valley is lucky in that the soil is healthy and provides good drainage, and gentle rains further promoted a good round of grape-setting before things got warm.
Low Humidity Summer
2019 was a low-humidity summer for this region of the Old North State. It must be noted that “low” humidity is relative. The Yadkin Valley of North Carolina is on the east coast, and coastal states are known to be humid. However, the summer of 2019 was dry at the right time, and our humidity was lower than what the region normally suffers through.
Humidity levels matter deeply to grapes and grape growers. Damp air that isn’t moving leads to moisture building up between the grapes as they cluster, and cramped grapes can grow mold. Moldy grapes are not good for wine, or much else, and often need to be destroyed before the mold damages the vine or the whole wine batch.
The rain fell at the right time, so the grapes didn’t crack. Grapes that get too much water over the course of the summer will split, and this splitting not only lets out all the juice and becomes a haven for pests, but these grapes can suffer from rots that cause them to shrivel up completely. Many a Yadkin Valley Winery professional has watched the sky with trepidation, hoping for some moisture but no deluges. The rules for rain when the grapes are filling out during a North Carolina summer are “some but not too much,” and 2019 complied!
A Magical Fall
Over the summer, grapes swell to their fullest size. Once grown, the sugar in them starts to develop. The fuller the sugar development, the more lush the wine blends and the more remarkable the wine flavor. A dry fall season that doesn’t add a lot of water to a fully flavored grape makes for a Vintage Wine season, and 2019 worked out well.
The Yadkin Valley used to grow a lot of tobacco. As this plant is losing market, many growers have switched over to grape vines and wine production. Because this remarkable region, just west of Winston-Salem, is home to native grapes including the Scuppernong and the Muscadine, growers are encouraging the use of vines that will be both easy on soil that formerly supported tobacco and on renewable plant rootstock.
In addition to growing grapes, there are many options for guests to enjoy time at a Yadkin Valley Winery. There are tastings and restaurants aplenty, and many B&Bs and cabins in the region for a quiet getaway, a winery stop, and some delicious 2019 wine. You’ll be close to Winston-Salem for day trips or sight-seeing, then come back to winery country for a tour of the RayLen Vineyard & Winery. We’ll be happy to show you the vines at work, the grapes as they ripen and where the fermentation happens!