Fox Valley’s grape crop not hit as hard by drought
By Steve Lord firstname.lastname@example.org August 19, 2012 7:34PM
Jennifer Kellogg of Oswego pours a bucket of harvested grapes into a collection bin on Saturday, August 18, 2012, at the Fox Valley Winery vineyard in Sheridan. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Fox Valley Winery, 5600 W. Route 34, Oswego (630) 554-0404
Fox Valley Winery 120 S. Main St., Sandwich (815) 786-3124
Fox Valley Winery 33 S. Third St. Geneva (630) 845-0404
Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery 477 S. 3rd St., Geneva (630) 232-WINE
Glunz Family Winery & Cellars 888 E. Belvidere Road, Grayslake (847) 548-WINE
Glunz Family Winery & Cellars 221 Robert Parker Coffin Road, Long Grove (847) 634-WINE
Lynfred Winery, Inc. 15 S. Roselle Road, Roselle (630) 529-WINE
Lynfred Winery-Tasting deVine Cellars, 21 W. Jefferson St. Suite 101, Naperville (630) 420-WINE
Lynfred Winery-Tasting deVine, 127 Front St., Wheaton (630) 752-WINE
Prairie State Winery, 217 W. Main St., Genoa (815) 784-4540
Salute! Farm & Vineyard, 14317 Pleasant Valley Road, Woodstock (312) 718-0157
Valentino Vineyards & Winery 5175 Aptakisic Road, Long Grove (847) 634-2831
Village Vintner, Winery, Brewery and Restaurant, 2380 Esplanade Drive, Algonquin. 847-658-4900
Waterman Winery and Vineyards, Inc. 11582 Waterman Road, Waterman (815) 264-3268
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:02AM
The drought of 2012 is already legend, its destruction of corn, soybeans and most crops well-documented.
But there is one cash crop in Northern Illinois that has fared OK during the drought, albeit a small one — grapes.
It turns out drought is not as hard on grapes used in making wine as it is on corn, soybeans or even the bluegrass in people’s lawns.
“We have found that to be the case,” said Dick Faltz, owner of Fox Valley Winery, 5400 Route 34, Oswego. “The vines have a very deep taproot — the taproot is 20 feet in the ground.”
Anthony Peccoux, Viticulture Program Leader at the University of Missouri’s Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology, said drought does decrease the growth of vines and grape yields, “but compared to other crops the grape is different because the vine has deep roots …”
Also, grapevines are a perennial plant, rather than an annual, like corn or soybeans, so their root systems are more established and already have taken root in water deep in the soil.
During a moderate drought, grapes actually do very well.
“Moderate drought conditions, occurring now when the berries turn red, usually improve the quality in most cultivars,” said Peccoux.
Of course, this is no moderate drought.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said the United States is experiencing its widest drought since 1956 with more than 70 percent of the country abnormally dry.
US Drought Monitor says the severe conditions continue to expand across the Midwest with nearly two-thirds of the region now suffering the effects of the drought.
According to the Midwest Wine Press, about 6 percent of the Midwest is in what is considered extreme drought, and there, vineyards not irrigated can have trouble. Part of that area is in Southern Illinois.
While Fox Valley Winery has its tasting area and wine-making facility in Oswego, the vineyard is further west, near Sheridan. Faltz said because the vineyard is on land along the Fox River, it is irrigated, and the grapes have fared well.
But he can attest to the beating the drought has given Southern Illinois. Fox Valley Winery uses four different vineyards there, and already has “rejected the fruit” from two of them, Faltz said.
“It really is an ecological disaster,” he said.
William Shoemaker is senior research specialist for food crops at the University of Illinois’s St. Charles Horticulture Research Center along Peck Road, which holds a vineyard.
Shoemaker noted that grapes are, indeed resilient. Here in northern Illinois, for this season they should be fine, but down the road the crop could be impacted, particularly with bud formation next year, he said.
“This year, quantity might be down, but quality should be good,” Shoemaker said.
In Southern Illinois, the drought has had more impact, he said. Vineyards there typically are not set up to manage stress, meaning they don’t have irrigation systems set up because of the cost. In such conditions, vineyards also can cull what they are growing in half as a technique for having less of a harvest, but a better quality crop.
In Maple Park, in western Kane County, drivers at Meredith Road and Route 38 can clearly see the vineyard for Acquaviva Winery, and its wine-making facility, tasting areas and restaurant across the highway.
Acquaviva’s Denise Cimmarrusti said their grapes have been hurt a little by the drought, but not too much. She said the grapes needs about an inch of rain a week, and have been occasionally getting that much.
Both wineries said the drought aside, the consistent mid-90s temperatures have been more of a problem. Faltz said when the weather is too hot, the grapes do not grow or ripen.
“So they’re only getting a few hours of growth a day on those plants,” he said.
Cimmarrusti said that while the grape harvest usually is in September and October, Acquaviva might start early this year, in early September, because of the heat.
Acquaviva had about 20 acres planted with 19 different grape varieties. The winery makes eight of its own wines — four dry reds and four whites that range from dry to sweet.
Fox Valley Winery makes a number of wines — dry, semi dry-semi sweet, sweet, reserve and boxed. The winery is holding vineyard tours and tastings every weekend through Labor Day.
One way to get around the problems presented by overly hot, dry weather is to get your grapes from a place with a different climate.
The Village Vintner Winery & Brewery in Algonquin uses grapes and juice brought in from the West Coast. Steve Boyer makes the wine and the beer.
Boyer said a bit of stress on grapes actually helps produce more flavorful wines, and too much water hurts taste, too.
Boyer said California growers have just started harvesting, with grapes used to make pinot noir the first to be picked. From what he has heard, it should be a great season per optimal conditions of warm, dry days, and cool nights.
According to the Napa Valley Register, vineyards say thus far this has been the best grape-growing season since 1995.
Staff writer Mike Danahey contributed to this story.