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Virginia wine industry looks to bounce back after wettest growing season

Posted at 1:55 PM, Mar 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-16 13:55:32-04

A grape plant rests within its weather protection on the hills outside Potomac Point Winery and Vineyard in Stafford, VA, 19 November 2007. (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

According to researchers at Virginia Tech, 2018 was the rainiest year on record for much of Virginia.

Parts of Virginia’s economy suffered but Virginia grape growers and winemakers really felt the impact.

“It was the worst year I have ever seen in 33 years,” said Virginia Tech’s Tony Wolf, a Winchester based professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and university viticulturist.

Wolf reported rain tends to result in the absorption of water by the grapes, especially in the the 30 to 45 days before normal harvest.

When this happens sugar and flavor compounds in the grapes are diluted. Resulting wines don’t have the ‘concentration’ of aroma and flavor that they would under drier conditions, he said.

“Furthermore, red grapes, depending on variety, might not develop the skin color density that we would like for a deeply pigmented red wine,” said Wolf. “This might result from prolonged cloudy weather, and cooler conditions associated with the rainy weather.”

Virginia wine producers aren’t completely at the mercy of the weather.

“Yes, they can harvest early, as many did this year,” said Wolf.  “They also need to exercise perfect ‘canopy management’ – the practices used to modify the arrangement of leaves and the distribution and quantity of leaves on the grapevine canopy.”

The Virginia wine industry has seen significant growth and generated over a billion dollars in economic impact annually so researchers say there are still reasons to be optimistic about Virginia’s wine industry.

“Most of our wineries grow different varieties partly to hedge against bad years for a particular variety,” said Wolf. “Consumers will also realize that the wine they buy today might have been ‘grown’ 2 or 3 years ago. The inventory of good and great wines can help a winery ride out a bad vintage now and then.”