Grape vines pushing out in the new-found heat of summer
The sudden burst of tropic heat arriving in mid-June was just what Colorado’s wine-grape growers were waiting for.
A cool and wetter-than-normal May restored ground moisture to the point many farmers just now are turning their irrigation water into the vineyards and the awakening plants took advantage of the wet conditions to store energy for the summer growing season.
Now that growing season has arrived.
“This is fabulous,” said an obviously pleased Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery on 32 Road near Grand Junction. “We’re a little behind in development but that’s nothing to worry about, we’ll catch up during the summer.”
On the other side of Grand Mesa, Yvon Gros of Leroux Creek Vineyards was saying his vines of cold-hearty hybrids Chambourcin and Cayuga are redolent with tiny yellow flowers, a sign of a very healthy crop.
“I was walking through the vineyard today and I stopped because I could smell something,” he said. “It was the florescence, the flowering of the vines. It’s a sign that the plants are gearing up for the growing season.”
Gros and his wife Joanna were taking a brief rest during the winery’s Friday dinner marking North Fork Uncorked, a wine-centric celebration of the West Elks AVA, and Joanna paused to remark about how vibrant the vineyard is.
“It’s been years since I’ve seen it so green,” she marveled and pointed to the long, emerald ribbons stretching downslope in front of the inn. “Yvon has been working hard in the vineyard and now this is the result.”
When I asked Nancy Janes if the near-constant rain in May was a drawback, she said there initially was some concern about powdery mildew, something moister climates deal with on a regular basis but something seen infrequently in dry western Colorado.
“Wet weather like that isn’t common here but it’s not something we can’t deal with,” she said. “But the plants really are happy to see it warm up.”
Yvon Gros said his vines were “growing like crazy” in the sudden heat.
“Some of the tendrils are 4 to 6 inches long,” he said with delight.
In the vineyard at Whitewater Hill, Janes clutched a vine to show a visitor delicate tendrils of new growth, soft green curls stretching iwell beyond the apical leaf of the vine.
“You see how long and fresh these are? That’s a sign the vine still is sending a lot of energy into growth,” she said. She grabbed another vine and noted the tendrils were starting to die back a little.
“This one is starting to focus its energy on producing fruit and not growth,” she said. “You can see how here we have flowers as well as clusters of green, pepper corn-size grapes.”
She paused and looked down the tidy rows, far different from the wild growth of recent years when vines went unclipped, still recovering from killing freezes in 2013 and 2014.
“It’s great to see the vineyard in shape and looking good,” she said. “Last year we hardly did any pruning at all and it was a jungle but this year John (Behrs, her husband and business partner) and the crews have been working almost constantly retraining and reshaping the vines.”