A prolonged drought may enhance flavor of local wine

Published: Jun. 15, 2023 at 5:55 PM CDT
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TAZEWELL COUNTY (25News Now) - Drought conditions continue to worsen, but luckily for grapes they don’t need as much water as other plants.

Grape vines are perennials, so they can establish their roots pretty deep into the ground versus annuals that have to be replanted every year. They’re also planted at least a foot into the ground, which allows them to access more moisture.

Bob Barry, Owner of Tres Rojas Winery in Washington, said, “So the grapes are a little bit stressed right now, because it’s been, I don’t know how long since we’ve had anything substantial as far as rain.” It’s been more than a month since we’ve seen a decent rainfall, and the grapes are thirsty.

To check how dry the soil is getting, Barry does the shovel test. He said, “[I] Dig down through the soil until I find, you know, the soil is moist enough where it still holds together. And that gives me an indication that there’s decent soil moisture.”

If the drought continues, with no irrigation systems, it may require a lot of work to get the vines some water.

Barry said, “We could essentially put water tanks on a trailer and haul it down and give every plant a drink. But, you know, by the time we got all these, you know, 4000 plus vines, watered, that would be probably a couple of weeks of doing nothing but hosing down each vine so.”

Grapes prefer hot and dry weather, but they still need some rain to continue their growth. Too much rain, mainly late in the season, can dilute their flavor and cause them to swell and burst. The dry weather can impact their flavor too.

Diane Hahn, General Manager of Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, said, “If we get a little less rain than normal, the juice will be a little more intense, the grapes might be a little bit smaller, but the wine might actually be a little fruitier, a little bit better.”

So with a prolonged drought, the grapes won’t grow as big, but will be a little juicier. Grapes are a resilient crop, but they sure could use some more water soon. Barry added, “They’ll be under some stress, and they’ll probably grow a little bit slower. If they got a good drink, they’ll do better. But they need the moisture to be able to assimilate any nitrogen that’s in the soil or if it’s applied to the leaves, it doesn’t assimilate as well unless there’s moisture in the soil. So hopefully we’ll get a little bit more and the the vines will pull all that moisture in and they’ll be fine until harvest time.”

Hahn agreed and said, “I think as long as we maybe catch up on a little rain in the next month, it will be okay. And we’ll probably end up with a decent crop.”