One group of people not whining about a dry summer that parched lawns and shriveled flowers: South Jersey vintners.
Droughtlike conditions led to concentrated sugars in the grapes before harvest. This leads to better-tasting wine that may become the best vintage in the past six years, some area winemakers said.
“Our harvest came out great, as a drought and too dry is way better than too wet,” said Ollie Tomasello, of Plagido’s Winery in Hammonton.
South Jersey did buck the worldwide trend of 2016, which the International Organization for Vine and Wine called “among the poorest in 20 years” in terms of wine production. Overall, global production fell about 5 percent compared to 2015, with adverse weather hitting parts of Europe and South America the hardest.
Larry Sharrott, owner of Sharrott Winery just over the Hammonton border in Winslow Township in southern Camden County, called it an odd year for weather in the business.
“The April snow and freeze did hurt a few early ripening grape varieties, which led to a small reduction in the crop,” Sharrott said.
However, Sharrott added that the hot, dry summer is just what grape growers want to see.
According to the National Weather Service, August 2016 was the seventh-driest August on record in South Jersey. Records date to 1874.
Surrounded by water on three sides, Cape May County escaped the April cold that had an impact farther north.
“It’s one of the best we have seen in volume, and the quality may be almost as good as 2010, which was our banner year,” said Bruce Morrison, owner of Jessie Creek Winery in Middle Township.
August 2010 was even drier than this one.
The National Drought Mitigation Center has placed most of New Jersey in at least a moderate drought at some point this year. A severe drought continues over the northern third of New Jersey.
“The dryness trumped the high humidity and other weather challenges this year, and we were really fortunate,” Morrison said.
The National Weather Service says it was the fourth-hottest June, July and August in South Jersey on record. The humidity was persistently high as well. But while humidity isn’t ideal for grapes, all winemakers agree the lack of summer rain was actually a good thing.
Just north of Jessie Creek on Route 47, Natali Vineyards did see lower yields in 2016, which owner Al Natali attributes in part to the cool, wet May.
“Quantity-wise, we only harvested about two-thirds of what we had last year,” Natali said.
However, he agreed the dry August was key in terms of the ripening of the grapes.
“The fruit quality is exceptional, so we’ll have a little less wine this year but it will actually be better wine,” according to Natali.
A stretch of wet weather in late September and early October coincided with the grape harvest and caused some winemakers to speed up their picking by about a week.
“Rain around harvest time is a challenge,” Morrison explained, adding it takes more work to promote flavor development when the grapes swell and take up water.
Tom Cosentino, executive director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association, has talked to wineries throughout New Jersey, and says many share the excitement at the prospects for another good year.
“The early frost affected some, and some last-minute rain impacted picking times, but the dry summer in between helped make 2016 our fourth straight great vintage statewide,” Cosentino said.