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Uncorked: Vineyards bounce back from last year’s drought

Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Vineyard managers welcomed the rain. 

While residents with waterlogged basements, farmers with impromptu lakes instead of fields and warm weather enthusiasts yearning for the record-setting heat of last spring groaned at the wettest April on the books, Illinois grape growers didn’t mind at all.

A cool, wet spring has 2013 bud break about five weeks later than 2012. There’s a long way to go in the growing season, but a wet spring and late bud break could be beneficial for the vintage.

Winemaker spotlight

Northwest Illinois

Galena Cellars vineyard manager Ed Strenski let out a few choice words.

Not because of the incessant April rains that fell, but because of the mud they created. On Tuesday, Stenski got the vineyard sprayer stuck in the mud. A fair trade for the welcome rain that has ended the severe drought of 2012.

“We love the rain,” Strenski said. “The water table has started to come back up with the recent rains. We are not in a drought anymore and our vines have recovered a little better. It’s a little soupy in the vineyard, but we were able to get all our pruning done.”

Last year’s drought didn’t wreak too much havoc in the vineyard either. Winemaker Chris Lawlor had concentrated fruit to craft Galena Cellars’ wines and Stenski didn’t have too much disease or fungus in the vineyard because it warmed up so quickly with little humidity.  

“We’re pumped for the growing season to start,” Strenski said. “I think it’s going to be great.”

Central Illinois

Joe Taylor isn’t in the clear.

After bud break at Sleepy Creek Vineyard in Fairmount just two days ago, the central Illinois winemaker still has an ever-shrinking window in which to contend with nighttime frost issues.

“Everything is green already,” Taylor said. “I’m excited. So far it’s been a nice start without any major problems. We’ve had issues with frost the last two years. Pretty soon we are in the clear with frost and I’ll be happy.”

When bud break occurred the third week of March in last year’s abnormally warm spring, an April frost limited Taylor’s 2012 final harvest numbers.

The only setback for Taylor this year has been a muddy vineyard that has slowed an acre of soil prep. Taylor decided to replant an acre of the Marquette varietal that wasn’t preforming as he would like.

“It’s rare to replant an acre,” said Taylor, who will replant with a Norton varietal and 100 table grapes for the local farmers markets. “It was a hard decision. The soil is half-way prepped and the new vines just arrived.”

The April rain was welcome after last year’s drought and Taylor jokes he stopped keeping track of the inches tally when it reached eight. With the exception of the acre he is replanting, Taylor said the vineyard has bounced back well from the drought.

“The moisture doesn’t affect us much right now,” Taylor said. “After the first fruit set and later in the summer when we get into July and August, that’s when we’d want a nice little dry spell. That’s when it would be best. After 2012, I didn’t mind having all that rain.” 

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at news@daily-chronicle.com.

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