The ideal growing conditions of 2013 have Indiana grape growers forgetting last year's dry and scorching summer. Indiana wineries and independent vineyards are looking at the potential for a bumper crop of wine grapes.
Indiana has nearly 600 acres of vineyard to support what will soon be 70 wineries. But most Hoosier wineries buy all or some of their fruit from in- and out-of-state suppliers. Often Indiana vineyards are just 5, 10, or 15 acres and provides fruit for only a small portion of their production.
Two of the state's biggest wineries, not surprisingly, have the biggest vineyards. Oliver Winery has its beautiful 50-acre, Creekbend Vineyard just a few miles off Highway 37 near Bloomington. Ted Huber has the state's largest winery-owned vineyard with nearly 70 acres producing grapes on long-held family property overlooking the Ohio River Valley close to Louisville.
"Everything looks perfect and ideal at this point," says Oliver's Director of Winemaking Operations Dennis Dunham. "We've had a fair amount of rain pre-veraison [or before grapes began to ripen], but it's not a big deal. And especially after last year I think there is general thought that getting moisture back into the soil, overall, is a good thing.
Dunham said the vineyard had issues last year in the hot weather. The lack of rain forced vineyard workers to cut clusters from the vines to encourage ripening of what remained.
Ted Huber said this year's story is similar down south.
"We're probably 15-20 percent in veraison and the rest of the varieties are a week out," Huber said. "Right now we're sitting very disease free considering the amount of rain we've had in June and July. We're starting to dry out, because we've missed most of the late July rains."
But like any Hoosier farmer, growers are never totally happy with the weather. "The problem we're having now is excess vine growth," Huber said. "So we have several different groups working almost seven days a week doing shoot positioning, leaf pulling, cutting, getting rid of the massive canopy we're seeing right now. It's necessary so we go into veraison and can ripen fruit correctly."
But both men agree a bumper crop is starting to look certain. crop is starting to look certain. "We're seeing a very big crop right now and we can ripen a big crop," Huber says. "Unlike last year when, with the lack of shoot growth, we had to drop fruit because we didn't think we could ripen it. This year we have a bumper crop of leaves and shoots, and a full canopy absorbing the sunshine. So if we get the fruit exposed to it and let mother nature take its course, we should be able to ripen everything."
Dunham says Creekbend is set to deliver the biggest normal crop winemakers can ever expect.
"So with the weather we got now, we have as much fruit as we can expect," he says. "Overall, everything has looked pretty darn good and some of the crop estimates I've seen are pretty high."
But what does it all mean to Hoosier wine consumers? First, it means there are more Indiana grapes on the open fruit market and the chance for some producers to buy locally. Second, great wine is made in vineyards and not by winemakers. A great crop should mean a great 2013 vintage.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, Ind., writes every other week for 23 Midwestern newspapers. Read his wine blog at www.howardhewitt.net