Md. wineries battling through heavy rain, storms
Relentless rain and storms, including a tornado, have hammered grape growers over the last several months, leading to another challenging year for Maryland vineyards and wineries.
While some regions of the state, such as western Maryland, have been spared, others struggled throughout the summer with heavy rains that can stress grape vines, exacerbate disease pressure and spoil harvests.
“In a year like this year with sporadic storms in some places and a little more constant in others, we had some wineries saying it’s a pretty good year or not a great year, and other parts of the state — Southern Maryland, Brandywine, southern Prince George’s County — took a bath,” said Kevin Attacks, founder of Grow & Fortify, which oversees the state’s winery association.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured nearly 19 inches of rain in Washington, D.C., this summer, nearly twice the seasonal average. July through September were particularly challenging. Baltimore’s summer was even worse with more than 21 inches of rain.
Great Frogs Winery in Annapolis may have taken the worst of it when a Category 1 tornado tore through the area Sept. 3, severely damaging the business in minutes. The owners, Andrea and Nate O’Shea, have temporarily closed their tasting room, replaced the roof and stripped the interior down to the studs. They could not be reached for comment.
“Please let us rebuild we understand You would love to visit but the County has condemned our tasting room and barn and debris is everywhere,” they posted to their Facebook page Sept. 7. “we will refund tastings and we will Rebuild.”
Despite being flooded during a rainstorm Aug. 3, Port of Leonardtown Winery in St. Mary’s County was comparatively lucky, said Michael Hughes, general manager. Although five “show” vines near the tasting room were drowned in 5 feet of water, all of the winery’s grapes, grown by 15 growers across Southern Maryland, were spared during that weather event.
Still, he estimated that due to heavy seasonal rains, the co-op’s growers lost 30 percent of their crop, which includes 20 different varietals. The winery sits in a floodplain, and about 2 feet of water flooded the tasting room just before harvest, he said. Damages were more than $20,000.
“We had to redo our walls, redo the drywall,” he said. “It was just mud, muck and cleaning. … We’ve had floods before. They’ve never been this severe.”
Other growers, such as the Vineyards at Dodon in Anne Arundel County, are also expecting reduced yields.
Several years of heavy rain have lowered grape yields significantly in Maryland. In addition to obliterating different varieties across the state, record rain in 2018 canceled the Maryland Wine Festival, held in September. It was rescheduled.
Wineries are also scrambling to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus, said Kelly Dudeck, Grow & Fortify’s chief strategy officer, to the Maryland Agricultural Commission on Oct. 14. They were able to serve customers outside over the summer, but that will be more difficult in the fall and winter. Portable heaters in the area have sold out, she said. Some wineries have built fire pits for customers.
“A lot of them are really concerned about the winter,” she said. “There are still a lot of people who are not willing to come inside.”
Regardless, wineries should be able to manage the weather challenges, including the rain, Atticks said.
“Even in 2018, there were some really nice wines that came from it,” he said. “This year, if you (growers) managed yourself well, you’ll still have some nice wines.”
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