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Categorized | California, General

Anyone Order Fried Grapes?

Anyone order fried grapes?

Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune Grower Ned Hill shows off some of the syrah grapes that were destroyed during last weeks heat wave.

By Emily Charrier-Botts/INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

Valley wine grape growers were initially excited about last week’s heat spell, hoping the warm weather would help develop the grapes’ flavor after an unusually mild summer. That was until the 110 degree temperatures set in on Tuesday, Aug. 24.

"Everybody got hammered," said Ned Hill, who oversees 13 vineyards with his vineyard management company, including his own Parmelee-Hill Vineyard. "The industry as a whole they say lost 10 percent, and that’s an average of people who lost more like 30 percent and those that didn’t lose anything."

Hill said a perfect storm of events collided to cause the massive, widespread damage in the fields. The wet spring and cool summer months meant the berries were not used to the heat. Plus, in order to fight moisture-based fungus and mildew from the wet, foggy months, many growers cut back the leafy coverings over the grape bunches to allow wind to move through and dry out the fruit, leaving the grapes exposed to the intense sunrays. Additionally, the berries are bigger than average this year, meaning the skin is spread thinner over the grapes and is more susceptible to drying out.

"The berries got cooked, they actually got cooked," Hill said. "Nothing was acclimated to it (the heat) so they just dried up."

Hill said Monday’s temperatures of 104 degrees were not too hard on the grape, but when the thermometer shot up to 110 and 111 degrees on Tuesday, he knew he was in for trouble.

"I manage 13 ranches and I only have 3 ranches I can’t find sunburn on," he said, adding that some vineyards lost up to 30 percent of the crop.

What to do next is a question growers are still grappling with.

"This is intense. No one can remember this happening before," Hill said. "We (growers) are all talking a lot. The big question is what to do about it."

For now, Hill said most growers are waiting to see what happens to the grapes in the next few days. If the grapes shrivel up like raisins, they can likely still be harvested.

"They won’t mess up the processing, they’ll get kicked out just like the stems," he said.

But, if they remain a mushy ball of partially cooked grapes, the fruit may have to be dropped from the vines so that it does not impact the healthy grapes. "If we take off too much, we harvest nothing," Hill said. "It’s just pretty depressing."

Hill said this latest upset is the cherry on top of what has been an unusually complicated growing season. The late spring rains and the foggy, moist summer meant the growers have been battling mildew and botrytis all season. Those efforts were necessary, but ultimately left many grapes vulnerable to the summer’s only significant heat wave.

"It’s been a very difficult farming year," Hill said. "Last year was a very easy farming year until the harvest when we got rain. But last year was a piece of cake compared to this year."

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