• Dona Stewart

Remnants of Hurricane Ida Drench Northeast US Vineyards

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Remnants of Hurricane Ida Drench Northeast US Vineyards

The remnants of Hurricane Ida, which slammed into New Orleans as a Category 4 storm, moved across the Northeast United States this week. Its path brought extreme rainfall to hundreds of vineyards across Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Maryland and Connecticut, many of which have not begun, much less completed, harvest.

Loudoun County, 40 miles northwest of Washington DC is home to nearly 50 of Virginia’s more than 300 wineries, many with onsite vineyards. A flash flood warning for potential rainfall of 6 inches and tornadoes went in effect on September 1; six weeks before the typical end of the harvest period. The rain fell on soils already saturated by precipitation from Tropical Storm Fred in mid-August. The cooler, drier air for the Labor Day holiday weekend is surely a great relief.

Some growers raced to harvest ahead of the storm system. In Kutztown, Pennsylvania Setter Ridge Vineyards put out a call for volunteers to help harvest Pinot Noir. This is reminiscent of 2018 when some Virginia growers harvested in advance of Hurricane Florence. Of particular concern was the potential impact on the state’s highly aromatic signature varietal – Viognier.

Ida’s rains were not expected to impact most of the Finger Lakes AVA in upstate New York, known for its dry Rieslings.

How Rain Can Damage a Harvest

Dry conditions are strongly preferred for harvest. Rain, especially in high quantities, can cause the grapes to swell and split, creating pathways for mildew and fungus, including botrytis. Water, absorbed through the skins and stems, dilutes the flavors and impacts the balance between acid and sugar. Rain also contributes vigorous leaf and vine growth that can impart an unpleasant vegetal flavor in wine.

The risk of tropical storm systems to the coastal areas of the US, such as Florida, Texas and Louisiana, is well known – the connections between these systems and high rainfall in Appalachia and the northeast – is becoming more apparent. Hurricane Ida brought historic flooding in New York city just weeks after Tropical Storm Fred caused severe flash flooding near Asheville, North Carolina.

With increased storm activity and intensity anticipated due to climate change, grapes growers may need to monitor distant tropical systems more closely. Though the US hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, storms are most frequent in September, August and October, coinciding with the harvest and pre-harvest periods.

Vineyard design and management practices can help mitigate the risk from these storms.

At Two Twisted Posts Winery in Purcellville, the vineyard's slope drew excess water away from the vines. Owner Brad Robertson also credited timing and a strong vineyard management program focused on mildew prevention: "We came away from Hurricane Ida with no issues this year, as our varietals are still a few weeks from harvest."

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