Mo. Wineries Expect Tiny Harvest
A combination of the Easter freeze and hungry birds has left Missouri's wineries predicting a tiny harvest this year and big economic losses.
Vineyards across the state are reporting 85 to 100 percent losses of certain types of grapes, while the overall loss is estimated to be around 60 percent.
Agricultural officials are still assessing the damage, but they say losses could total $2 million to $3 million.
Wine enthusiasts likely won't see much difference because wineries said they'll buy grapes from other states to make up the difference.
But that does little to assuage the economic bite.
Phyllis Meagher, owner of Meramec Valley Vineyard and founder of the Missouri Grape Growers Association, said she expects to harvest only eight or fewer tons of grapes this year, down from the 150 tons she harvested last year.
To try recouping some of her losses, Meagher has planted pumpkin vines in her vineyards and plans a pumpkin festival this fall, instead of a wine fest.
"This is the worst that we've seen. This is really rare," said Jim Anderson, executive director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Association. "I hope we don't see it in another 50 to 100 years."
Missouri wineries last year produced 958,000 gallons of wine, which was the 11th-highest in the nation, well behind California's 713.5 million gallons.
Temperatures far above normal in March and April this year led many grape vines to come out of winter dormancy early, spreading leaves and buds for spring. But a cold front blew through in the days leading up to Easter, dropping temperatures to 20 degrees or lower and keeping them there, damaging fruit and even cracking open vines.
"There's nothing you can do at that temperature," Meagher said. "At 27 or 28 degrees, you might be able to make it through. But there's nothing you can do at 20 degrees for three nights."
Another problem is that birds went after many grapes that had survived because the temperatures also hurt wild berries and insects that form the diet of some species.
"The bird damage is so severe," Meagher said. "It's like locusts out of the Bible."
Larry Green said birds reduced the 2 1/2 tons of vignoles grapes at his Whispering Oaks Winery in Seymore to 250 pounds.
Similar damaged occurred at Sainte Genevieve Winery: "The wildlife thinks we're their grocery store," said chief winemaker Elaine Hoffmeister.
How wine makers will deal with this year's lean harvest is the next big question.
Tim Puchta, owner of Adam Puchta in Hermann, said he's facing several lean years after losing almost all of his vignoles variety of grapes.
"I'm going to have to redo my business plan for the next three years," Puchta said. "I don't know what things are going to look like. How am I going to recoup prices?"
He said some wineries may increase the price of Missouri wine or begin charging for wine tastings.
Robert Mueller of Robller Winery in Hermann and University of Missouri-Columbia viticulturist Keith Striegler said those moves would make it harder for Missouri wines to compete with wines from California and overseas.
Anderson said growers also must be reasonable in charging for their grapes, despite some varieties being in high demand.
"Growers want to be paid high prices," he said. "Wine makers might be able to pay a little more but not something through the roof."
Winemakers still have wine from last year to sell and shouldn't have trouble making wine if they buy grapes from other states. But federal law will require those products to be called "American wine," not "Missouri wine."
Meanwhile, growers will have to go through their vineyards and see which vines are still capable of producing grapes. Ones that aren't can be replaced, but they won't bear fruit for two or three years.
SOUTH HERO, Vt. (AP) — Apple growers across Vermont are predicting a good crop this year.
"After our dismal season a year ago, we have a potential for a beautiful crop," said Ron Hackett, of Hackett's Orchard in South Hero. "I'm very optimistic for a good season."
In 2006 the apple crop was challenged by heavy rain early in the season when the trees were in bloom, preventing bees from pollinating the trees.
"We had a heavy bloom, and then eight or nine days in a row that were sunny and warm, so we had excellent population," said Hackett.
Scott Adams of Adams Apple Orchard & Farm Market of Williston agrees.
"This year we have a bumper crop," said Adams, where the pick-your-own harvest began on Saturday. "Last year was below average, but that made the trees that much stronger going into this season. And in the springtime we were able to have some strong beehives to help pollinate the apple trees."
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture estimates the state's apple crop is worth $10 million to $12 million a year. Apple products like applesauce are worth an estimated additional $10 million to $12 million a year.