Drought hits vineyards hard | News, Sports, Jobs


Jill Schramm / DND Alan Verbitsky of Sawyer Crossing Vineyards and Winery checks the grapes on part of his vineyard near Minot which has produced some production this year.

For the first time, Pointe of View Winery in Burlington has canceled its annual harvest festival this year.

Wineries and vineyards in western North Dakota have battled drought, and parts of the state have been hit hard by a late spring frost in 2021, said Rod Ballinger, Fargo, president of the Winery Association of North Dakota. Many vines died or did not produce.

“Those who survived, the berries themselves are smaller than normal and fewer clusters”, Ballinger said.

In Pointe of View, drought has devastated the grape harvest, owner Jeff Peterson said. His vineyard produced around 100 pounds of grapes, compared to the typical 2,500 to 5,000 pounds.

The loss of the grapes is a small part of the disaster for the state’s oldest winery, established in 2002.

“The real loss is not having the wine to sell because we normally sell this product every year. It’s a pretty big success for us ”, said Peterson.

While there isn’t much wine from the winery’s vineyard, Pointe of View will always produce and sell its other wine.

“We will do with” said Peterson.

The heat and drought also delayed the grape harvest at Sawyer Crossing Vineyard and Winery, which has operations near Sawyer and Minot.

“It started very early in the spring. During the flowering period of the plants, we had this extremely high heat ”, said owner Alan Verbitsky. “This intense heat burnt the flowers of the vine. You’re wilting the flowers, you’re not going to produce grapes.

“Of course, having no rain, plants do not have the moisture to produce the foliage”, he added. “The plants have gone completely dormant.”

In some cases, vines or portions of vines have died.

“It would not be unreasonable to lose half of the vines in the vineyard”, said Verbitsky.

Verbitsky said there may be plants whose growth can be restarted from the remaining root, restoring production in two or three years. If the vines are to be replanted, the production of these new plants will not occur for three to five years.

Verbitsky said his vineyard included two drought tolerant varieties. One did quite well, producing a partial harvest. To produce the usual amount of wine, however, he would have to buy grapes elsewhere.

According to Ballinger, wineries in eastern North Dakota that have fared better with good basement moisture, and even those across the border in Minnesota, have already pledged their grapes. Finding another supply in the region would be difficult, he said.

Given the situation, Verbitsky turned his attention to the development of fruit meads or honey wine. However, he noted that even his bees were struggling to produce this year.

Rodney Hogan, Buffalo, president of the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association, agreed that wineries in the eastern part of the state that managed to escape the early spring frost were doing better.

“We have the best harvest ever” Hogan said of his Red Trail vineyards. “I can’t believe how big a harvest we have. “

He attributed the struggles of Western growers not only to the drought, but to a previous winter that started out mild before turning terribly cold. Even with his vineyards, winter bud destruction was significant, prompting him to reduce bud size in the spring, he said.

The North Central Research Extension Center, which experimented with a vineyard, has a drip irrigation system that has saved many plants. Unfortunately, there were too many other factors that many vines couldn’t overcome, said Chris Amundson, agricultural research technician.

“Winter has been very hard for everything. And then we had herbicide damage, and we had these high temperatures all summer. So, even with the irrigation, they still had a difficult year ”, she said.

Amundson said the lack of snow cover and dry ground allowed the winter cold to sink deeper into the ground. Without insulation from underground moisture or snow, some plants did not survive.

The herbicide damage was caused by the drift of the weed spray in the center at the time of flowering of the vines.

“I hate to see this kind of damage, but we also learned something” said Amundson. “Once that happened, I now know which ones are the most sensitive. We’ve had some that’s dead, and we’ve had some that’s dead to the ground. Anyone who plants these vines, if we were to market any of them, if we had to patent any of them, would likely experience herbicide drift at some point. If we have some who are really sensitive to it, we know that maybe it is not the vine that we should be looking at.

“Those who survived and come back, some plants have not suffered any damage. So I marked them and maybe they are the ones we should take a closer look at because they are more resistant to this kind of damage ”, she said.

The center has around 3,000 different experimental vines.

Amundson said the fruit from each vine is processed separately in small batches to test the quality of the wine. Many plants that should have had enough fruit for a test batch failed to produce adequate grapes this year.

“We will still have data on the fruit, but we will not be able to get any of the data that we would have obtained by making these wines and testing them. “ she said.

As this winter approaches, the research center plans to keep the vines pruned and in the best possible conditions to reduce the stress they have suffered throughout the year.

Peterson said the long-term impact on Pointe of View will depend on weather conditions going forward.

“We’re a little worried if we don’t have more fall rain, snow and spring rain, I could have some plant damage as well. I just hope it doesn’t happen ”, he said.

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