Winesday: When It Rains, It “Pours”... Wine & the Weather

Emma Doody

“What’s going to come next- a sandstorm?” asked my friend as we stared out at the never-ending expanse of snow in front of us.

This season certainly has seen its share of weather anomalies from Hurricane Sandy to the recent blizzard that hit some parts of Connecticut with more than 30 inches of snow.  As I assessed the damage and tried to get my daily routine back in order, I couldn’t help but consider how these extreme storms have affected the wine industry.  A wine’s quality depends on a host of climate factors including the length of the growing season, temperature, and composition of the soil.  Even a small deviation can alter an entire bottle.  What happens to production in the wake of such monumental weather upheavals?

In order to find the answer to my question, I turned to Andie Martin, Tasting Room Manager, and Chris Moore, Vineyard Manager, at the Jonathan Edwards Winery.  Although Jonathan Edwards is bi-coastal, one of its major properties is located in North Stonington, Connecticut.  Its Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc grapes all herald from vines grown locally.  They have firsthand knowledge of how the weather influenced the region’s viticulture.

I learned that vineyards are highly vulnerable to hurricanes.  The rainfall and moisture can cause the grapes to split, which, in turn, leaves them susceptible to rots.  That may lead to partial, if not total, loss of that crop.  The high winds can also result in physical damage, such as broken trellis posts.  Fortunately, the timing of Hurricane Sandy saved Jonathan Edwards Winery from significant damage.

“We were lucky in the sense that Sandy came along late in October 2012,” Martin explains.  “We had already completed our harvest for the year and the entire season had been warm and dry which is our ideal.”  While he did note a few examples of structural loss, they were minor.

Blizzards, on the other hand, prove less cause for concern.  During winter months, the vines are dormant.  In fact, snow accumulation can even help with growth.

Heavy snows can even help to insulate the base of the vines from very cold temperatures,” Martin informed me.

There is the risk that severe cold weather, temperatures of -10 degrees F or lower, would kill newly forming buds.  Luckily the blizzard did not bring frigid air along with its massive dumping of snow.

Despite global warming and recent environmental changes, both Andie and Chris speak highly of the 2010 and 2012 growing seasons.  Warm temperatures earlier in the season mean cause the buds to break sooner, which means that they can harvest as early as September or October.  Both 2010 and 2012 saw buds break two weeks ahead of their normal schedule.

“While we are making- and enjoying- some delicious wines from our 2011 vintage, the 2010s and 2012s are stellar!” Martin proclaims.

For more information about Jonathan Edwards Winery, or to locate a retailer near you, visit http://www.jedwardswinery.com. The winery is open daily from 11am-5pm, with complimentary tours at 12pm.