Local wineries are toasting last month's warm, dry weather, which was a boon to the wine grape crop.
''It gave us that little extra bit of hang time to get the grapes to mature before we picked them,'' said Jean Manspeaker, who owns Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery in Bedford with her husband, Tod. ''There was some concern that they'd have not ripened completely and we'd have to pick them because of the cold weather.''
Weather has a major impact on each year's grape crop, said Mark Chien, a Pennsylvania viticulture extension educator based in Lancaster County. Warm, dry years make fine wines, while wet, cool years pose more difficulty.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Winemaker Scott Schraff draws spiced apple wine to test for taste and clarity Wednesday at Oak Spring Winery in Altoona.
''Vineyards require well-drained soils and little rain, particularly during the last third of any vintage, which is the most critical time for wine,'' Chien said. ''It is during this time that the vines focus on ripening the fruit and not on growing leaves, a process hindered by the rain.''
This year's grape crop was better than last year's at Oak Spring Winery in Altoona, said winemaker Scott Schraff.
''They were more ripe,'' he said.
Wine in Pennsylvania
- The state has 14,000 acres of wine grapes and ranks fourth nationally in the amount of grapes grown and eighth in wine production.
- Pennsylvania is home to the two highest elevation vineyards east of the Rocky Mountains.
- The nation's first commercial grapevine nursery was in Montgomery County.
Source: Pennsylvania Winery Association
In 2006, the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Program commissioned a study to review the impact of Pennsylvania wine and wine grapes on the state's economy in 2005.
- $661 million in total contributions to the state economy
- 104 licensed wineries in Pennsylvania
- 150 wine grape growers in Pennsylvania
- 340,000 cases of wine produced annually
- Fifth largest wine grape producer in the nation
-- 5,200 jobs created, with a total payroll of $161 million
- 877,000 visitors to Pennsylvania wineries
- $167 million in tourism expenditures
Schraff said there was a half-ton fewer grapes this year, but he couldn't attribute the difference to weather patterns.
''We pruned a little differently,'' he said. ''Sometimes you go for quality more than quantity.''
Too much rain dilutes juice concentration within the grape, Chien said, leading to disease problems with the vines - which is what happened last year at Starr Hill Vineyard & Winery in Curwensville. This year's dry summer, though, led to a ''good crop'' this year, said owner Ken Starr.
''The longer it can hang on the vine, the sweeter it can get,'' Starr said.
The dry fall ''absolutely'' helped the crop at Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery in Centre Hall, said manager Gene Proch.
''It looks like it's going to be a very good vintage,'' Proch said. ''All of the initial indication, including wine analysis, looks very good.''
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There are more than 100 wineries in Pennsylvania, which is fifth in the nation in wine grape production, according to the Pennsylvania Winery Association.
As the economy continues to sour, one might expect consumers to cut back on wine purchases, but some winemakers say that isn't the case.
Briar Valley is in its first year, and Manspeaker said her business is consistent, drawing most of its traffic from travelers visiting Bedford Springs Hotel and Resort.
Mount Nittany pulls many customers from visitors to Penn State University, and Proch said the economy hasn't hurt the winery.
''But it's a little early to tell,'' he said. ''Sales seem to be about the same or up a little compared to last year.''
Schraff said the economy is actually helping Oak Spring Winery.
''People aren't eating out, but they're buying two or three bottles of wine to drink over the weekend,'' he said. ''A glass of wine is $3.50 or $4.50 at a restaurant, and you can buy a bottle of our wine for the price of two glasses. ... We've been busy all year.''