Beaverdam Vineyard Harvest Report 2017
Another interesting year and another harvest completed and without a doubt, 2017 is going to go down as a record challenge and head scratching harvest year. It was one of our lowest yield harvests since 2012. In 2012, a late spring frost resulted in no crop for our Norton. We were able to provide Hightower Creek and Ferncrest Wineries with our Norton grapes, but none left for ourselves. The head scratching part is 2016 harvest was the best - the record year in yield and quality.....Ahhh....the life of a farmer.
The 2017 season concerns started out with continuing cold and wet weather into spring that reduced flowering and fruit set while interrupting complete Norton cluster fertilization and reduced overall crop size. We recorded full bud break on April 20. An early bud break always concerns us as our vineyard is at risk of heavy frost until mid-May. Spring continued to warm gradually and we recorded great flowering and fruit set on our other varietals: Regent, Seyval Blanc, and Vidal Blanc. By June we were in the midst of a normal summer that continued through July when we began recording veraison, the first stages of ripeness, on our earliest red varietals. While this signals that harvest is approaching, it also represents one of the most vulnerable periods for the grapes, as the softening skin and increasing sugar make the berries targets for wildlife, insect pests, mold and rot. Our 7-10 day fungicidal spray regime was to create conditions favoring quality clusters at harvest. We also embarked on an initial effort of leaf thinning in part of the vineyard to promote sun and air circulation through our vine canopy. This not only opened up the canopy to prevent disease, but also allowed the grapes to receive additional sunlight to develop flavors. This required quite a bit of time, but I believe the increased fruit quality was well worth it. All of this was aided by what was shaping up to be a high quality but reduced yield crop.
At the end of June, if you had asked, I would have indicated we would meet winery requests for Norton and then have promise for increased Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc and Regent crops. This being agriculture surrounded by woodlands, it couldn’t last. <Huge sigh> That yield promise evaporated, when we were hit by wild turkey and deer depredation starting in early July through August even despite the netting of the vines.
Norton harvest began on September 30 and wrapped up on Sunday, October 1. A big "thank you" to our family and friends harvest team! I can’t thank these brave souls enough - they braved early mornings, wet grass, vines that made you twist and turn to get to the fruit....and the yellow jackets/wasps. We couldn’t do this without them. Having spent a full year in the vineyard watching these grapes bud, flower, set and ripen, it feels great, albeit a little bittersweet, to have successfully wrapped up harvest. Having been at this now 7 years it is now truer than ever to say “Every year stands to its own.”
A couple post scripts, we sent three bottles of our 2016 vintage wine to the NC State Fair Amateur Wine Competition. Our Seyval Blanc and Norton dry Rose (a first try at this style) each received a first place and our Norton red wine received a second place recognition. A high point in the midst of a challenging year, and begs the question of when will we open a tasting room! More to come on that.
Lastly, we had the new NC extension service small fruits specialist visit our vineyard to address a couple of concerns. Results of this visit, we are supporting and anticipating approval of an on- farm trial to investigate “Initial survey and development of an Integrated Pest Management approach to control grape phylloxera in the Appalachian Mountains”.
We are looking forward to another great year full of learning and experimenting from this amazing journey. Cheers to 2018!