When most Hoosiers think of weather problems and crops it’s cornfields that come to mind. But the winter cold is the big issue of 2014 for farmers of a different type – vineyard managers.
The frigid cold of early 2014 damaged up to 25 percent of the state’s grape crop, according to Purdue’s Bruce Bordelon. “It’s very widespread in the northern part of the state,” he said. “From the Bloomington/Columbus line and north the damage is pretty severe.”
The extreme cold temperatures damaged the vine structure in many vineyards. “So a lot of us are retraining vines from the ground up,” Bordelon explained. What that means to those with the cold weather issues is that sections of the vineyard restarted may be out of production for two years. “We’ll have a light crop next year,” Bordelon said. “There should be a partial crop in two years then back to full production in 2017.”
One of the hardest hit vineyards was the state’s second largest at Oliver Winery. The Creekbend Vineyard just west of Oliver’s tasting room on Hwy. 37 suffered damage to 20-25 percent of its vines, according to vineyard manager Bernie Parker. “We’ll be making less than half of the Creekbend (label) but Creekbend is only about three percent of our total production. There is an economic impact because we’re still having to put in the same effort in the vineyard to re-grow these vines. It may take more effort.”
Parker had to restart 9,000 of 36,000 vines in the 54 acre vineyard. The largest portion of the Oliver wines though are produced from grapes purchased to produce their signature and popular sweet wines. The higher-end Creekbend wines are grown in their vineyard. The bulk of that vineyard is planted in Chambourcin, Traminette, Vignoles, Chardonel, and other typical Indiana wine grapes.
Others who suffered damage may have been able to recover a crop with good vineyard practices. “Grapes are an amazing plant in their ability to produce fruit,” Bordelon said. “We always adjust the production through pruning and cluster thinning. We usually have way more fruit than we really need. With some of these (grape) varieties, with lighter pruning, we’ll still be able to have close to a full crop.”
Down south Ted Huber saw little damage in his vineyards atop the Ohio River Valley hilltops. We’re probably going to pull off an 85-90 percent grape crop,” Huber said. We had a little bit of minor damage in one vineyard so by choice we decided to do a renewal on it. It still had one-third to a half crop on it anyway, but it just made a lot of sense to take it out of production.”
Huber has the state’s largest vineyard but is the second biggest wine producer. Oliver is by far the state’s biggest wine producer with the second largest vineyard. Oliver buys the fruit for much of its 300,000 case production. Approximately half of the Oliver total production is the popular sweet wines.