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Virginia’s wine grape harvest is ripe, robust—and early

The crush of Virginia’s wine grape harvest is ahead of schedule, and the fruit is robust.

virginia wine“The harvest looks like it’s coming along reasonably well so far,” noted Dr. Tony Wolf, viticulturalist for Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Warm spring weather led to early bud bursts and put this year’s grape harvest a week or two ahead of schedule, Wolf explained. “The grapes are looking pretty good, and there is more fruit than what you normally see.”

Wolf said the typical harvest season for Virginia wine grapes is mid-August to late October, but this year some started in early August in the southern regions of the state.

Kim Pugh, owner of SummerWind Vineyards in Isle of Wight County, said her harvest is slightly ahead of schedule. “We expect to harvest a couple of varieties in the next couple of weeks,” she remarked.

At SummerWind, they typically harvest viognier and merlot grapes in August and then cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, petit manseng and cabernet franc later in September and early October. “But like any kind of agriculture, it’s all weather-dependent,” Pugh commented.

She explained that different varieties ripen faster than others. The sugar levels, acidity and pH all have to be at a certain level before the grapes can be harvested.

When they are deemed ready to harvest, it’s a fairly quick process. “Once you start picking, you want to get it done in a day or two,” Pugh said. “Everyone gets stressed out at harvest time.”

It can be stressful but rewarding, because once the grapes are harvested they’re no longer susceptible to disease or insect damage, Wolf noted.

He is seeing a “lot of enthusiasm” among grape growers as new vineyards continue to crop up across the state. There are more than 260 wineries in Virginia, according to the Virginia Wine Marketing office. An economic study released earlier this year reported that the state’s wine industry contributes more than $1.37 billion annually to the economy, an 82 percent increase from a similar study in 2010.

Visitors to wineries this fall may be able to watch grapes being harvested, but the wine they taste will be from previous harvests, Wolf said.

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