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Grape harvest will be smaller but more flavorful due to spring freeze

Saturday, August 18, 2007

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Kellar Board covers grapes with bird netting to keep animals from eating them
(Photos by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
"Grape expectations"

COMMERCE -- Jerry Smith is one of the few farmers who is enjoying the hot temperatures.

"It's hurt the soybeans, corn and other crops, but it's actually very beneficial to our grapes right now," said the owner of River Ridge Winery in Commerce. "It helps build sugar and better qualities."

But like other farmers, he is continuing to feel the effects of the April freeze, which included three successive days of freezing temperatures, with lows of 18, 20 and 22 degrees.

"It killed most of the primary buds that had already pushed and had green growth," Smith said. "As a result, the grapes are the secondary and tertiary buds, which are less fruitful than the primary buds, but sometimes superior in quality."

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Grapes hang from a vine at a River Ridge Winery orchard
One surprise is that some grape varieties that are sensitive to cold, such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah and chardonney turned out better than usual, Smith said. "This year, those varieties are absolutely loaded with beautiful grapes, which is contrary to what everyone expected," Smith said.

Smith and his crew began harvesting grapes from his six-acre farm last week. The total amount of loss hasn't yet been determined, but Smith guessing it will be about 50 percent.

In some areas of the state that were hit harder by the freeze, such as the southwest and south central, losses fall more between 80 and 100 percent, said Jim Anderson, executive director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.

But wine lovers shouldn't get too worried just yet. "What's released now is from the 2005 and 2006 vintages," Anderson said. "You'll see catch up next year on whites and two years from now on red wines."

That's what Smith, who said he had enough inventory to last through spring 2009, plans to do. "Whatever shortfall we may have in 2007, believing the frost won't happen two years in a row, we'll make up in 2008," he said.

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The shortage will likely lead to more blended varieties of wine in the near future, Anderson added.

Importing grapes is an option the Wine and Grape Board has given to wine farmers this year, he added. But, that is an extra expense in addition to getting the damaged vines back in shape. Plus, a wine that is made with less than 75 percent of grapes from that state must be labeled as American wine, not Missouri, which may incur extra expenses, too.

Smith said he has purchased grapes in state before, but never from out of state. "And as of now, we have decided not to do that," he said. "When people come, they are looking for Missouri grown and processed wine."