Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo
Wine grapes ripen on the vine at Fresh tracks Farm in Berlin.
The fledgling Vermont wine industry may look back on 2012 as one of its finer vintages.
Winemakers across the state say this summer has provided the best grape-growing weather in their short history and consumers should be able to taste the difference next year.
“It was great,” said Ken Albert, managing partner at Shelburne Vineyard. “It was almost like a Napa Valley summer. The grapes loved it and we loved it. ... It was probably the best summer we’ve ever had.”
In Brandon, Otter Valley Winery owner Ursula Zahn said she had started to worry about the lack of rain.
“The summer was really dry, but everything turned out good,” she said. “The harvest came in a little sooner, a week or two early.”
Summer temperatures were at a statewide average of 67 degrees this year, which St. Johnsbury-based meteorologist Mark Breen said was 1.9 degrees above normal.
“It’s the seventh-warmest in the past 118 years,” Breen said. “The range from warmest to coolest would be between 68 and 61.”
Precipitation statewide averaged 10.3 inches, which Breen said was about 3 inches below normal — the 22nd driest summer on record.
“In general, grapevines are happiest when it’s warm, dry and sunny, which pretty much describes this season,” said Sara Granstrom, manager of Lincoln Peak Winery in New Haven.
“It’s been a perfect growing season for grapes in Vermont, which will surprise a lot of other people because they’re not used to thinking of grapes in Vermont,” she said. The state’s wine industry is less than two decades old.
Lincoln Peak and a number of other Vermont wineries have taken on grapes, such as Marquette and Frontenac, that were developed at the University of Minnesota to survive colder weather than most grapes favored by vintners.
Fresh Tracks Farm in Berlin is trying out a grape that doesn’t even have a name yet but is simply known by the numbers 6.16.30.
“It’s a green grape so it’s sweeter,” said Fresh Tracks farmer Charles Savoie. “We’ll use it to make a champagne we haven’t released yet.”
Overall, Savoie said Fresh Farms, like the rest of the state, is going well.
“We have a large crop and the grapes are filled with sugar,” he said. “It’s pretty much been as good as it can get, sugar-wise.”
Over at Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge, David Boyden said the Frontenac appears to be doing particularly well.
“There’ll probably be a really strong black raspberry flavor and less acidity, a really nice balance,” he said.
Boyden said the dry summer has also meant less of a threat from mildew and fungus, and that the mild winter of 2011-2012 also contributed.
“The milder the winter, the easier it is on the vines,” he said. “On top of that, we’re having a dry fall, which allows you to ripen the fruit.”
Not only are the grapes better, according to Boyden, but they are more plentiful.
“We have some vineyards yielding six tons to the acre,” he said. “That’s a little higher than we want them to be, but it’s not a problem because it’s good fruit. We shoot for four tons to the acre.”
So when should we start looking for these sweeter Vermont wines?
“Right now we’re selling all 2011 wines,” said Albert of Shelburne Vineyard. “We started selling them as early as May. Some of the whites will be available in May 2013. The reds usually take a calendar year. You’ll start seeing reds in August to September.”
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