Grape growers in Arkansas wine country are finding vines that like wet weather hanging heavy and expect a great muscadine crop this September, but this year’s weather has not been so forgiving for other varieties.
While grapes like cynthiana for dry reds and vignoles for dry whites are expected to offer more complexity this year with the cooler nights on the vine, fewer days over 95 degrees is creating challenges for powdery mildew and black rot.
Audrey House of Chateau aux Arc near Altus said she estimates a loss of 50 percent of her crop following a storm with near tornadic winds, followed by an invasion of insects and animals from the flooded Arkansas River basin.
“We had rain during the spring fruit set, so that was a limiting factor, and the flooding caused every critter to take ground, whether they were flying, or walking," House said. "It displaced everything.”
An influx of Japanese beetles and grasshoppers brought more defoliation than normal at Chateau aux Arc this year, along with wasps hunting the grasshoppers.
“You just keep going,” House said of the challenges. “Mother Nature is throwing us a curveball. You just have to run with it. We’ve been a cafeteria for all of the critters.”
Along with heavy muscadine vines, apple trees at Chateau have also been loaded, she said.
Michael Post said Mount Bethel Winery’s vineyard at Altus did not experience as much damage from the high winds early in the season but the wet weather has put pressure on them to fight the fungi.
“Last year was a pretty dry year, so it’s flip flopped and really it’s more normal, but with a really wet spring,” Post said. “It’s drying up some.”
Mount Bethel workers have been harvesting ripe elderberries, which have clusters that ripen at different times. Post checks on them every three days to see when they are ready to pick. By mid-to-late August, Post and other vintners in wine country will pick vignoles and niagara grapes for white wines. Later on, they’ll take the native cynthiana grapes and the French hybrid chambourcin. By the end of September, they’ll be looking at ripened muscadines.
“I think muscadines will be our best crop this year,” Post said. “They like the wet weather.”
There are always challenges in growing grapes, Post added. It’s either too much water or not enough. The main challenge this year were the storms that came through at times and the heavy rains in June and July that added fungal disease pressure.
“Otherwise it’s been a pleasant year with cooler weather and the benefit of cooler nights,” Post said. “People can look forward to a pretty decent harvest this year.”
The 2018 harvest was also good for House, who has 22 different wines available from that vintage.
She’s seen bad years before. A late freeze in 2007 caused House to lose most of her grapes, she said. However, they were able to create a “true white platinum zinfandel” from a third crop in October of that year.
A few of House’s favorite wines from the 2018 season at Chateau aux Arc were estate bottled red zinfandel and white vignoles wines, as well as a sweeter cynthiana called Dahlem’s Red she made with grapes from her neighbor’s vineyard.
“People just absolutely adore it,” House said of Dahlem’s Red. “It’s a cynthiana that even people who don’t like cynthiana like because it’s a little on the sweeter side and mellows the acid out.”
House is known for producing dry wines in a region that typically gravitates toward sweet wines. Dahlem’s Red has somewhat filled a void in her lineup for her more ardent critics.