Rain Leads to Early Harvest of Grapes at Schuylkill County Vineyards | Company

HEGINS — The rain couldn’t have come at a worse time for the grapes.

Certainly, like most plants, vines need sufficient water during the growing season.

In late summer, however, rain just before harvest can dilute a grape’s juice, split it, or shrivel it.

“We prefer it to be dry from mid-August until harvest time,” said Tom Stutzman, owner of Red Shale Ridge Vineyards in Hegins. “This is when the grapes build their sugars.”

As illustrated by the persistent rains from September 10-11, weather conditions this season have been pretty much the opposite of what winemakers need for a vibrant harvest.

While the vines could have used water in July and August, the area experienced some of the driest weather in years, prompting the state to institute drought watch for Schuylkill and 35 other counties.

But now, while a dry spell would be beneficial, recently it has been raining frequently.

Fearing that too much rain would ruin the harvest, some local winemakers started picking grapes earlier than usual.

A picking rush

At King Solomon’s Vineyard in North Manheim Township, vineyard manager Steven Agosti rushed to pull grapes from the vine for fear they would be damaged by too much rain.

Intense heat in July and early August, with frequent temperatures over 90 degrees, shortened the growing season, Agosti said.

“The heat made for longer growing days,” he said. “Due to the weather, we chose earlier than planned.”

Last year, Agosti said, the first grape variety was only picked on September 9.

By the same date this year, King Solomon’s had already harvested four grape varieties: Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Founded in 2008 by Dr. Solomon and Wendy Luo of Orwigsburg, King Solomon’s Vineyard grows 10 varieties of grapes on approximately 5 acres. The first vines were planted in 2010.

Agosti said he expects to harvest around 32,000 pounds of grapes this year, about the same amount as in 2021.

King Solomon’s plans to offer the first retail offer of its wine online before the end of the year, Agosti said.

A waiting game

Dark clouds loomed over the lush valley between the Little and Hegins Mountains on Monday as Stutzman assessed the harvest of Muscat grapes at Red Shale Ridge Vineyards.

“They’re really nice; I’m very happy with them,” he said. “Hopefully they stay there until we can pick them on Thursday.”

Right now, says Stutzman, it will be a very good crop – if harvested before the rains stop.

Stutzman’s predicament underscores the critical role of weather and harvest timing in growing grapes.

The longer they are on the vine, the sweeter the grapes will be.

However, leaving them on the vine too long, especially in humid conditions, can cause the grapes to swell, burst and rot.

When Tom and Denine Stutzman named their vineyards after the red shale soil in which they planted their first vines 25 years ago. It drains well, Tom Stutzman said, making it ideal for growing grapes.

Red Shale grows five varieties on 2 acres, producing approximately 7 tons of grapes per year.

Different varieties ripen at different times. But typically white grapes are harvested first, Stutzman said.

Look closely

Given the weather, Kyle Heffner is keeping a close eye on the grapes from Stone Mountain Wine Cellars in Wayne Twp.

It measures the sugar levels on the Norton and Vidal blanc grape varieties daily.

“The sugar levels on some wines are not what they were last year,” said Heffner, the winery’s manager. “We had to choose early.”

Pickers have been working feverishly to remove muscat grapes from the vine in recent days. The La Crescent grapes, which produce a dry white wine, will then be harvested.

Heffner is confident that, despite worries about the weather, the harvested grapes will produce good wine.

“Overall it’s going to be a good season,” he predicted. “Because of the extra sunshine, it will be a good year for wine.”

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