Harvesting grapes is a race against the clock because the grapes must cool before they are crushed and processed in the earliest stages of wine-making. The cooler the temperatures when they are picked, the easier the next stages become.
Overall, grape harvests in Missouri vineyards are lower than past years after a summer of brutal heat and drought stressed or killed vines, shrunk grapes and diminished juice yields.
Mild winter and spring weather moved the harvest calendar forward, and a mid-April frost killed off many of the early buds. Vines pushed out secondary blooms that were subsequently ravaged by the drought. Thirsty deer, raccoons and turkeys nibbled on grapes throughout the hot summer, leaving many growers with less than the usual yield.
In addition to being smaller than usual, this year’s harvest is significantly earlier than most years. The warm winter and spring weather moved the entire schedule forward, forcing grape growers to harvest as much as three or four weeks earlier than usual, said Michael Leonardelli with MU’s Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology.
Missouri has 1,700 acres of grape-bearing land and more than 400 grape growers, though less than half of them are large enough to be considered commercial size, said Jim Anderson, the executive director of the Wine and Grape Board.