Apple and grapes in Central Virginia fared well in the recent moderate drought.
In fact, the dry and warm weather was particularly good for the grapes, and wine producers in the area are optimistic about the quality of 2019 wines. The harvests for both crops were ahead of schedule, according to agricultural officials and local producers.
“The standard of winemaking in Central Virginia continues to improve,” said George Hobson, CEO of Veritas Vineyards & Winery in Afton. “We’re especially excited when we are blessed with a harvest like this to show off the potential [of the area].”
Hobson also is president of the Monticello Wine Trail, which includes more than 30 wineries in Central Virginia.
The drought also helped the apple harvest statewide, said Norm Hyde with the Virginia Farm Bureau, because farmers didn’t experience many weather delays. Fall apple season runs from after Labor Day into November, with the bulk of the harvest occurring in October.
Hyde said apples are a significant crop for the area in terms of production.
“The wine industry has historically been a high-dollar crop,” he said. “That particular industry supports a lot of agritourism.”
At Carter Mountain Orchard in Albemarle County, owner Cynthia Chiles said there’s about two to three weeks left of apple picking.
“We work all year for this,” Chiles said of harvest season. “It takes a whole year to grow an apple.”
The orchard has a variety of apples that ripen at different times throughout the season. Picking of pink lady apples, one of the last types to ripen, started Friday.
Chiles said the apples weren’t as affected by the recent drought because their trees are well established. A dry spell and late-season heat led to varying drought conditions throughout the state. Albemarle County as considered abnormally to moderately dry before several recent days of rain.
Hobson preferred the dryness, especially after a wet 2018 that he said was “one of the most challenging years on record” for area grapes.
“Rain is the enemy this time of the year,” he said.
Hobson said that as the grapes ripen, rain heightens the risk of disease because the skin around the grape could split as the fruit swells with water. That water also dilutes the flavor of grapes and subsequently the wine.
But, with the dry weather earlier this fall, “we’ll end up with more flavorful wine,” he said.
He expects 2019 to be a “fantastic” year for Central Virginia wines.
White wines using 2019 grapes could be available as soon as early 2020. Red wines take longer to make.
Hyde said apple trees, which produce fruit for multiple years, are not as susceptible to late-season droughts. But the lack of rain could mean smaller apples, he said.
Chiles said the size of this year’s harvest is average.
The Old Dominion is No. 6 among apple-producing states, according to the Virginia Apple Growers Association. The state has more than 100 commercial orchards, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.