Farming can be like gambling when it comes to the weather. Luckily, Mother Nature dealt grape growers a good hand this year.
National Grape Co-op Owner at Welch’s Richard Erdle said this year’s crop is the largest since 1991, compared to last year which was the smallest crop since 1977.
Tim Martinson, a senior Cornell Cooperative Extension associate, said last year was a record for the shortest harvest season for wine grapes.
“Unseasonably warm weather followed by spring frosts led to an early and small harvest in 2012. This year’s moderate temperatures have growers looking at a more typical harvest schedule,” Martinson said. “Last year, growers were finished by the end of September – and it was the earliest harvest on record. This year, they are hoping for a few more weeks of dry, sunny weather to finish ripening the crop. So far, quality is excellent, and growers are optimistic about both quality and quantity.”
Erdle agreed, saying the local weather, especially in the past six weeks, helped Concords ripen and be ready for harvest for the region’s 200 plus pickers.
“We had an early bloom and an early veraison (onset of ripening). There have been good growing conditions throughout the year and good post veraison. The last six weeks have been ideal ripening conditions,” he said.
Luke Haggerty, viticulture extension specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Lake Erie Regional Grape Program, said this year is a memorable growing season.
“Last year’s frost in the Lake Erie Grape Belt resulted in a very heavy crop load this year for both Concord and Niagara growers. 2013 is going to be an exceptional year and will probably be talked about for years to come,” he said.
Haggerty said some juice grape growers had to use crop thinning to ensure health of grapes and vines.
“For some, the vines put on more grapes than it could handle, which could cause the fruit to not ripen properly as well as hinder the health of the vine. To alleviate some of the risk, many growers used crop thinning. Crop thinning is a technique developed by researchers at the Cornell Lake Erie Regional Grape Program where grape harvesters are adjusted to only take off a portion of the grape crop,” he said. “Having a vineyard with over 16 tons an acre was common in the Lake Erie Grape Belt, but many growers decided to thin the crop down to a manageable 8-10 tons per acre. This ensures the grapes will meet the appropriate sugar levels and the vines will maintain good health and put on another good crop next year.”
Joe Falcone of Falcone Farms and Chairman of the Welch’s Co-op declined to comment on the harvest but did give The Post-Journal a first-hand look into harvesting grapes.
Falcone said they begin harvesting around 3 a.m. and usually finish around noon. They were picking grapes on Walnut Road in the town of Sheridan Thursday.
Falcone’s son, Stephen Falcone, was operating the grape-picking tractor. He explained long tubes shake the grapes off the vine and onto belts which take the grapes up and through a chute into boxes, pulled along in the next row by a small tractor, which once filled, are put on a truck and taken for processing.
Erdle said harvest of Niagara grapes is nearly over.
“We finished the Niagara grape processing for two-thirds of Niagaras at the North East, Pa., plant. We are still processing Niagaras at the Hammondsport plant and it will go on for about two more weeks,” he said.
He added this year’s Concord crop is looking better and better.
“We started processing Concords last week in Westfield. Yields have been good and the quality has also been good. The sugar solids are not as high but they are increasing every day,” he said. “It looks like a large crop and we will probably be processing through October and maybe into November.”