How weather can impact wine production

For many farmers and vintners, wine is the hard-earned result of growing a healthy crop of grapes

A glass of wine.

For some folks, it’s a relaxing end to a long day. Or, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a great meal. For others, it’s that little bit of liquid courage in a social setting.

But for many farmers and vintners that produce it, wine is the hard-earned result of growing a healthy crop of grapes. One of the ways they ensure their yields is to be well-attuned to the best weather conditions necessary for growing the fruit.

"The weather is going to dictate everything that ends up in that bottle," said Michael Scarborough, owner of Running Hare Vineyard in southern Maryland.

From rain to humidity to hurricanes, a variety of factors can impact the taste and availability of wine by influencing the growth of grapes and grapevines.

The thunder rolls

"What I want is small grapes, small bunches, tight, and not a lot of water — high sugar content, but loaded with flavor," said Scarborough.

According to Scarborough, too much rainfall produces large, juicy grapes that water down the amount of flavor in the grapes. But if given just the right amount of water, the grapes can grow to a size that holds the right amount of flavor.

In addition to too much rain, too much moisture in the form of humidity can also negatively impact the fruit and its vines. But rather than impact the flavor of the fruit, humidity can take a toll on the vines’ overall health. [Learn how wildfires in California destroyed the Napa Valley 2020 vintage]

"It's a great breeding ground for powdery mildew, black rot and downy mildew," said Scarborough. In fact, fungal diseases can cause farmers to quickly lose their entire crop.

The ideal condition for grapes includes lower to mid-humidity levels, according to Scarborough.

Rock you like a hurricane

Like many East Coast vineyards, Running Hare’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean makes the vineyard vulnerable to a weather event rarely seen by those on the West Coast — tropical storms and hurricanes.

"Certainly hurricanes, with the winds, just devastate your vines," said Scarborough. "[A hurricane] beats the heck out of the vines and the grape clusters — bruises them up, tears them up."

According to Scarborough, hurricanes can also destroy the crop by pushing the grapes past their ideal pH level, which then pushes the "Brix" or percentage of sugar content of the wine created by those grapes.

Hurricanes can dump so much rain that it dilutes the sugar content of the grapes. Once this happens, it can be nearly impossible to bring the water content back down to increase the sugar levels once again.

"In past years, if we saw a storm coming and the grapes were close to what we wanted, we took them off. We took them all off in a day," said Scarborough. "It’s ‘Everybody, hands on deck! Let's go pick grapes, get them out of here before they get beaten up.'"

A sweet feast

In addition to weather events, the grapes and grapevines have to withstand a few wild factors from Mother Nature.

"The problems that we do have, which I think, in some respects are kind of comical," said Scarborough.

Deer love the grapes, so the Running Hare team put fences around the vines to protect them.

"The raccoons do not care about your fences. They go right under and stand on their back legs, and it's a buffet for them," said Scarborough. "The skunks do the same darn thing. They just love it."

According to Scarborough, you can tell when the grapes are ready for harvest because the birds start flying in to eat them.

"It'll look like it's out of the movie 'The Birds'," said Scarborough. "They're relentless and mean, and they can eat thousands and thousands of pounds of grapes a day."

Charm of the Chesapeake

Keeping a close eye on the weather and its ripple effects can help ensure the health of grapes and the wine produced from them.

"It truly has been a labor of love," said Scarborough.

In addition to producing wine, Running Hare Vineyard has helped raise millions of dollars for nonprofits in their county.

"We're proud of that," said Scarborough. "We've been, we've been able to give back to the community, and that's something we do as a family."

"It is multigenerational, and this is a tremendous amount of fun," he added.