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Warm Weather, Late Frost Could Hurt Indiana Wine Production

The warm weather has caused grapevines to bud early. If another frost comes, it could kill those buds and the grapes they would have produced.

At Oliver Winery, just north of Bloomington, guests stand around a wooden counter, toasting their glasses as they sample small sips of wine. Oliver sells a variety of wines, but the local wines are the ones many people like Indianapolis residents Sally Reasoner come to taste.

“I think that’s where my favorites were with the traminette and the vignoles,” Reasoner says.

Those varieties are made from grapes grown in Oliver’s 54-acre Creekbend Vineyard about 7 miles away from the winery.

But those wines could be hard to come by next year. The warm winter is causing grape vines to bud early. That’s not necessarily bad in and of itself, but if another freeze comes, it could kill those buds. And without buds, there will be no grapes.

Taking Preventative Measures

As Oliver Winery’s Creekbend Vineyard Manager Bernie Parker walks between rows of grapes, pruning the vines, he notes grapes vines are typically dormant this time of year.

“I was just out this morning and took a look around and a couple of early budders,” Parker says. “The Catawba and the Marechal Foch have started to push the buds a little bit, which is an indication that they are moving along.”

Many vineyards prune later in the season to keep growth from coming too quickly. But with a limited number of staff and with so many grape vines, Creekbend has to turn to other measures.

“One of the other things that you have are wind machines that will actually warm up an area about 3 to five degrees if you do get a frost,” he says.

The two machines look like windmills and the blades whip around at speeds so fast you question whether they might fly off. But the powerful machines only cover about half of the grape vines, and Parker says, most vineyards around the state don’t have that kind of equipment.

Growing Demand For Indiana Wine

The Indiana Wine and Grape Council says it does not know the total economic impact vineyards and wineries have on the state. But it estimates the number to be somewhere in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Wine and Grape Council spokesperson Jeanette Merritt says many consumers are looking specifically for wines that are made from local grapes. One of the most popular wines is traminette—made from a white grape that thrives in the Midwest and was declared the state’s signature grape in 2009.

“We had a lot of demand after we announced traminette as the signature grape in the state,” she says. “A lot of consumers were going out looking for it so we had a lot of vineyards who wanted to meet that consumer demand.”

Before the announcement, about a dozen wineries were making traminette wine. Now, that number has more than tripled to nearly forty.

Oliver Winery Special Events Manager Dew Kincius says the demand for local wines comes more from the desire try something off the beaten path than from the taste. He says, if the harvest is bad this year, the winery can still fall back on its more traditional wines that taste similar to Indiana wines but are made from imported grapes.

“Chambourcin this dry red that we make, if we would run out of this we have Shiraz, that’s a grape that we get from California, Valdiguie and we also make a Zinfandel,” Kincius says.

But, Kincius says, it is not quite the same. So if the grape harvest is poor, the winery will ration what it sells throughout the year.

Gretchen Frazee

Gretchen Frazee is a reporter/producer for WFIU and WTIU news. Prior to her current role, Frazee worked as the associate online content coordinator for WFIU/WTIU. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studied multimedia journalism and anthropology. You can follow her on Twitter @gretchenfrazee.

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