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Another big year? Mild spring produces crop of speculation

052516 FD wine new growth

Grape vines in the Grand Valley have benefited from the mild, wet spring and some growers are predicting another large harvest.

While this spring, with its abundant moisture and cool temperatures, has presented several challenges to Colorado grape growers, including a slow start to the growing season, it also has set off speculation this year’s yield might top 2015’s record-setting harvest.

“Last fall’s harvest was the our largest on record and this one may be even bigger, depending on how people adjust their crop load,” said state enologist Stephen Menke at Colorado State University’s Orchard Mesa Research Center. “We really had no winter damage to speak of, so everything looks pretty promising right now.”

The 2015 harvest was a much-needed boost to winemakers around the state after two harsh winter years (2013 and 2014) cut production to about 50 percent of normal.

“Last year’s harvest was the biggest we ever had, both in terms of state-wide production and on a per-acre basis,” said Horst Caspari, state viticulturist at the Orchard Mesa Research Center. “Things look really good right now and I think 2016 could go past 2015 in terms of crop production.”

One factor, said Caspari, is that many acres of cold-hearty varieties planted to resist Colorado’s cold winters finally are old enough to be producing grapes.

“Because we have more acres now than we had before, we could end up with more grapes than we had last year,” Caspari said. “Not necessarily a higher yield per acre, although that’s possible, just more acreage producing grapes.”

052516 FD wine grape berries

These grape berries are the result of a healthy primary bud. Each bud on a grape shoot consists of a primary, secondary and tertiary bud. Primary buds produce the most fruit but also are the most susceptible to frost damage.

An example is Whitewater Hill Vineyards on Orchard Mesa, where owners Nancy Janes and John Behr pulled out an acre of underproducing vines and planted St. Vincent’s, a French-American cold-hearty hybrid from Missouri.

“We didn’t get very much last year, just enough to make a couple of bottles,” Nancy said. “But this year the vines look great and I think we might get a whole lot more.”

She also said the mild spring means more buds, especially the productive primary buds, survive to produce fruit.

“Some of the newer growers have never had primary fruit before,” Nancy said. “They won’t believe how much fruit they can get.”

But the season hasn’t been without its downside.

A hailstorm ripped through the Palisade area a week ago, reminding Bennett Price of DeBeque Canyon Winery of a similar although more-extensive storm last spring.

“I looked at some vineyards (last year) that were shredded, every leaf ripped off and no fruit left,” Price recalled. “I don’t think this recent one was that bad, but that’s what spring can bring us.”

Price also voiced some concern about powdery mildew, a fungal disease that’s common in more-humid growing regions and is particularly damaging to vinifera grape vines, which include such favorites as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

“It’s been such a wet and humid spring, I hope folks are thinking about spraying,” Price said.

Powdery mildew makes plant leaves look as if they are dusted with flour and robs the plant’s nutrients. If serious enough, the disease can kill a plant.

DeBeque Canyon Winery moves – Bennett and Davy Price recently moved their winery and tasting room in Palisade from its former location on South Kluge Street to 381 West 8th Ave. (U.S. Highway 6), the building formerly occupied by the Packing Shed Restaurant.

A new deck greets customers to the tasting room and wine shop. Winemaking facilities will occupy the adjacent building.

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturday through Monday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Information at 464-0550.

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