Friday, August 24, 2012

Drought likely to add delectability to Midwest wine

The ever-optimistic are out there. And they are growing grapes. Most of the grapes in Glenn Warnebold's vineyard in Missouri's picturesque wine country this year are about two-thirds of their usual size. Others have been reduced to raisins by the drought that burned up many crops across the Midwest this summer. Yet, writes Jim Suhr of the Associated Press, Warnebold figures it could be a good year with the drought concentrating the fruit's flavors and sugar, which will turn to alcohol during fermentation. His red Norton and white Chardonel grapes, while small, hold the promise of standout wine from a region better known for corn and soybeans. "The fruit will be better, overall, for reds and whites, then last year, when it was wet," said Tony Debevc, who has a 170-acre Ohio vineyard. "If it continues to be dry like this, the wine industry will be better overall. And personally, we can expand in the red category, and it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing."

But Suhr notes that not all is rosy. The drought has still stressed the vines, making them less likely to survive a harsh winter and produce next season. The harvest will almost certainly be smaller too. Warnebold figures he will get 2,500 cases of wine this year -- 1,500 less than what he typically might expect -- from his six-acre vineyard atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River.

For those who understand this kind of talk: This year's wines from America's heartland "will be nice, fruity and very approachable and soft on the palate," predicted Diego Meraviglia, vice president and education director for the California-based North American Sommelier Association. But he believes the drought has cost some grape varieties complexities that may hinder the wines' abilities to age, meaning "you have to drink them within a year or they'll go bad." Warnebold, for the record, was none too impressed with that analysis. "I've been to a lot of wine conferences with a lot of wine experts, and I've never heard that theory before," he said. Brad Beam, an Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association enologist, downplayed the debate, saying "a lot of our wine is best drunk on the young side anyway." No matter. Seems it might be long debate, with a lot of talk about the drought conditions being more or less a common thing in these parts from here on in. That talk, of course, has the winemakers discussing whether to irrigate or not, and if so, how much, and, then, how much better their reds can get.
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