Looking Back: Vintage 2014

California endures drought; many regions suffered from winter of 2013-14

by Andrew Adams
mum napa harvest
Harvest came early for sparkling wine producers such as Mumm Napa Valley (seen above) during the 2014 growing season in California's North Coast. Source: Napa Valley Vintners.

San Rafael, Calif.—The annual Wines & Vines survey of the wine grape growing regions of North America revealed a 2014 vintage that can be summed up by two extremes.

On the West Coast, California endured another year of severe drought to produce its third strong harvest in a row, while the Pacific Northwest enjoyed a marvelous growing season with Oregon in particular experiencing what could be the state’s best vintage on record.

In much of the Midwest and East, however, the story was quite different. The brutally cold weather from the “polar vortex” during the winter of 2013-14 devastated many vinifera vineyards. Some growers on Michigan’s Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas lost their entire crops or only brought in 30% of average, and some hybrid vineyards only produced half of a normal crop.

Despite the cold, some regions were able to recover. Growers in Ontario, for example, harvested about 52,000 tons, which is 80% of the five-year average and much better than expected. The same was true in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where temperatures fell to their lowest levels in 10 years but bud mortality turned out to be less than expected and growers managed to salvage a decent crop.

Animal predation caused problems throughout North America. Jack Johnston with the Maryland Grape Growers Association said bees and other winged insects targeted ripening clusters, “damaging the fruit big time, nearly as much as the birds,” he said. “They puncture the skins and suck the juice, and what’s left just shrivels up—looks just like rot. We apply Carbaryl (insecticide) at the first sign of damage and hope for the best.”

The High Plains AVA of Texas suffered another spring frost that reduced yields on some early varieties, but wind machines were used for the first time, and that minimized losses. In Ohio, specialized hilling equipment to bury vines and protect them from the harsh weather saved several vinifera vineyards.

A bright spot in the East was the Long Island region of New York, which enjoyed “above-average yields and good quality, ripe fruit.” A dry summer in the area required some growers to irrigate, but thd dry heat also minimized disease pressure.

Growers in the Pacific Northwest had little to complain about this year. “It was certainly an amazing growing season,” said Dale Jeffers, vineyard manager at Skyline Vineyards near Nampa, Idaho. “We had a long growing season that started in the spring and extended into the fall. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions.”

Patty Skinkis, the Oregon viticulture extension specialist and assistant professor with Oregon State University, reported, “Fruit was beautiful and ripe throughout all parts of the state,” and growers faced no challenges. “Only major successes occurred with a higher yield, great quality and no disease issues.”

Napa County (Calif.) largely shrugged off the Aug. 24 earthquake that left cracks in the ground beneath some vineyards but didn’t impede most winemakers who had to quickly deal with an “early, fast and furious” harvest. Throughout California, the harvest came in about two to three weeks earlier than normal.

The other challenges that continued to pop up almost everywhere in North America were insufficient labor and not enough wine tanks.

Wines & Vines reaches out to growers, extension agents and others for unbiased, objective reports on the harvest conditions of each region. We appreciate the assistance of those who took our voluntary survey.

If your region was not included and you’d like to contribute next year, contact us at edit@winesandvines.com.

Read detailed reports from various states and growing regions in the January 2015 edition of Wines & Vines.

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