By Dr. Kathy Kelley
I have been fortunate over the past few years to co-lead groups of Penn State undergraduates on a two-week experience in Paris, France, with the goal of comparing U.S. and French agriculture and food systems. The students learn about U.S. systems from Penn State experts during the spring semester and then they learn about the French systems when abroad in mid-May. Grape and wine production happens to be one of the topics they study, and they get an opportunity to not only visit a vineyard and winery in Pennsylvania but a couple of operations in the Champagne region. On my time off I visit wine shops and look for wine-related “things” that may be of interest to you, our blog readers. What follows is a bit of what I have seen so far on my trip.
Learning about Wine in High School
One of the stops we took the Penn State students to in the Champagne region was an agricultural high school (Lycée Agroviticole – Crézancy; http://bit.ly/2qyL40l). The school was founded in 1870 and is just one of several schools that teach students about farm management. Some of the students who have an interest in becoming winemakers, along with high school graduates who seek viticulture and enology training, are responsible for the vineyards and grow the three main wine grapes used to make Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier).
In addition to learning about grape production, the students also learn the multi-step process of making Champagne and are involved in all steps of the process.
Under the direction of a cellar master, the students’ final product is labeled and available for purchase. Selections, with the price in U.S. dollars, include Brut Tradition ($15.00), Brut Blanc de Blanc ($16.30), Brut Rose ($16.75), Demi-Sec Tradition ($15.73), and Euphrasie Millesime 2008 ($21.35) (http://bit.ly/2rljEMQ). A product that is now available, but was not in 2015 when I last visited with a group, is Brut Terroir – their organic option ($19.11).
Champagne can be purchased online as well as from the cellar at the school. A building is currently being converted into a retail space that the students will operate. Students interested in Champagne production also attend conferences, participate in judging events, and co-host events for the industry.
A 20,000 Euro ($22,474.74) Bottle of Wine
I am drawn to retail establishments and really enjoy observing how products are displayed, how the space is used, and the overall “feel” of the store. While Paris has many wine shops and places to buy wine (even a wine shop where no French wine is sold/served (http://soifdailleurs.com), I enjoy visiting La Cava at the Lafayette Gourmet near the Opera Garnier in the 9th Arrondissement (http://bit.ly/2rkwriQ) because it is in the midst of a supermarket in the basement of a department store and it is staged as if it were a museum. It is roomy, security guards are staged at the entrances, and the lighting highlights certain pieces (wines).
There are approximately 2,500 labels, of which almost half are from Bordeaux. Each time I visit I look for the most expensive wine available for purchase. Though I found a few bottles that were priced over 2,000 euro (approx. $2,250 U.S.), I also found a few 750 mL bottles that were just a bit more: a 1945 Chateau Latour (Bordeaux), which Parker awarded a 90/100 and Wine Spectator a 100/100 (http://bit.ly/2rTOKs6), that sells for 12,900 euros (approx. $14,500 U.S.) and an 1899 Chateau d’Yquem (Bordeaux) for 20,000 euros (approx. $22,500), which Wine Spectator awarded a 91/100 (http://bit.ly/2qjseYs). However, if those prices seem a little steep, do not forget that you can request a VAT tax refund when you leave the country, which for the Chateau d’Yquem is 2,400 euros (approx. $26,900 U.S.).
Another shop that I visit when in Paris is Lavinia (located in the 1st Arrondissement, http://bit.ly/2qnVah7). The business was established in 1999, has over 6,500 labels (including selections from the U.S.), and is often referred to as the Europe’s largest wine store.
“La Cave” is in the basement level and houses rare and expensive wines. In order to access the wines in this section, you will need to ask a staff member to open the door with a code, after which they will accompany you while you make your selection, and then they will bring the bottle to the cashier. This is the one section of the store where it is forbidden to take photos of the bottles in an effort to minimize any exposure to excessive light from a camera’s flash.
After walking around both floors you may be interested in having a meal in the restaurant. If you are interested in learning what wines pair with items on the menu you need only look at the display outside the dining room, find the particular food item (e.g., salad, cheese, a specific entrée), and refer to what wines are positioned in the column under the photo. If you would like to taste a particular wine, ask for a card (deposit of 3 euros), load 10 euros or more onto the card, and insert it into one of four machines that will dispense a select number of reds, rose, or white wines, all for 1.10 euro to 9.60 euro per 3 cl (1 fluid ounce).
As you can imagine with a city the size of Paris – the number of options for getting a glass or bottle of wine is immense. If Paris is on your list of places to see, or if it is time for you to visit again, be sure to investigate what bars, restaurants, shops, and tastings you would like to experience. While many establishments are well known and marked there are also a number of speakeasies in the city that deserve a visit, one of which is Lavomatic (https://www.lavomatic.paris).
Lavomatic is a working laundry mat with a secret door hidden behind one of the dryers. After you push the “start” button on the dryer and pull the door to open it- you will find a dark staircase that leads up to a small bar with a few small seating areas including a few swings that hang from the ceiling.
Until next time…
By Jennifer Zelinskie and Dr. Kathy Kelley
Did you log into Facebook, send a “snap” via Snapchat, post a photo on Instagram, or send out a tweet on Twitter today?
There is no doubt that social media has a presence in our daily lives. In 2017, 88% of the U.S. population had Internet access and 66% of the population actively used social media (http://bit.ly/2nCUEiC). From January 2016 to January 2017, the number of active social media users increased 21% and active mobile social users (those who use social media on their mobile devices) increased 30% (http://bit.ly/OeHf9K).
It may not surprise you that Facebook is the most widely used social media platform, but did you know that 68% of all U.S. adults use the platform? Additionally, 76% of American users visited the site daily in 2016 (http://pewrsr.ch/2nJd5Oy).
What about some of the other networks? Twenty-eight percent of all U.S. adults used Instagram, the second most “engaging” network after Facebook, and 51% of all Americans visited the site daily. Slightly fewer, 21%, of U.S. adults used Twitter, with 42% of Americans reporting that they visited the site every day (http://pewrsr.ch/2nJd5Oy). It is expected that there will be 66.6 million U.S. Snapchat users in 2017 (http://bit.ly/2nD5yVE). While the audience tends to be a little bit younger, the number of users age 25 and older grew two times faster than users under the age of 25 in 2016 (http://bit.ly/2mDL7TP).
Importance of Social Media for Business Marketing
Social media can be an effective marketing tool and wineries and tasting rooms should consider how they might include select networks into their promotional strategies. Or, if they currently have a presence – what they can do to encourage more engagement with followers. There are several benefits associated with using social media, which include:
- increasing website traffic,
- raising brand awareness,
- creating a brand identity and positive brand association, and
- “improve[ing] communication and interaction with targeted audiences,” (http://bit.ly/19OJ6KN).
Overall, social media is used to engage consumers; however, each network has its own purpose. Some of which, from an article written by Justin Scah (http://huff.to/2buWp8Y), include:
- A Facebook business page can be used to “connect with your prospective customers all around the world” and “allows for the best possible targeting…especially through Facebook Ads.”
- Twitter allows businesses to “post recent news, updates, and articles” and the number of Twitter users reached can increase significantly if others retweet your message.
- Instagram is an excellent tool for sharing photos of events held at a tasting room, your wines, the beautiful setting that surrounds your tasting room, and visitors enjoying their experience as you pour samples. It is common for businesses to host contests on Instagram. Participants post photos, based on specific criteria, and include a specified #hashtag that organizers can use to identify entries.
- YouTube, the second largest search engine, is also owned by Google so “videos are more likely to appear in search results than other websites” with video.
- Yelp allows customers to review your business and can persuade potential customers to either visit your tasting room – or decided to pass you by. This platform is “critical for businesses today” and “asking your customers to review your business prevents any negative reviews from standing out” (http://huff.to/2buWp8Y).
Social Media Use and our Mid-Atlantic Wine Consumer Survey Participants
In a March 2016 Internet survey, we included questions about social media use. We asked our participants (New Jersey, New York, and/or Pennsylvania residents who drank and purchased wine at least once the previous year) if they used social media networks and/or review sites at least once during an average month.
Of the 714 survey participants, 84% responded “yes,” and then these 600 participants were asked to select, from a list of networks and sites, which ones they actively used at least once during an average month. Based on which social media and/or review sites they selected, they were then asked to indicate if they used the particular network(s) and site(s) to engage with and/or learn about wineries and/or tasting rooms (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Percentage of survey participants who used social media and/or review sites at least once a month and, based on the networks and sites they used, the percentage of these participants who used each to engage with and/or learn about wineries and tasting rooms
An earlier survey, conducted by former graduate student Abby Miller in September 2013, asked wine drinkers and purchasers in the three states to select which social media outlets they “felt were mandatory for wineries and tasting rooms to implement to connect with customers” (Figure 2) (Miller, 2015). Additionally, participants were asked to select which social networks they used to connect with companies. Although the survey did not include as many options as the March 2016 survey, and we most likely had a different pool of consumers participate in each survey, it does provide insight as to which networks survey participants felt were important for wineries and tasting rooms to use to engage with them.
Figure 2. Social media networks that 2013 survey participants: 1) felt were mandatory for wineries and/or tasting rooms to implement and 2) they used to connect with companies
Also, when compared to the 2016 survey data, you will notice that the percentage of participants who used the networks to engage with and/or learn from wineries and tasting rooms was greater than the percentage of the 2013 participants who used the select networks to connect with companies.
- Facebook: In 2013, 55.4% of survey participants felt that Facebook was mandatory for wineries and/or tasting rooms to implement and 26.9% used Facebook to connect with companies.
- In 2016, the majority of participants who used social media (94%) used Facebook at least once a month and 64.5% of these participants used the platform to engage with and/or learn about wineries and tasting rooms.
- Twitter: 18.7% of participants in 2013 felt Twitter was mandatory for wineries and/or tasting rooms to implement and 12.8% used the network to connect with companies.
- Slightly less than half of 2016 participants, 44.2%, used the network and 35.6% of these participants used the network to engage with and/or learn about wineries and tasting rooms.
- YouTube: 17.3% felt it was mandatory for wineries and tasting rooms to implement and 10.9% used the site to connect with companies.
- Over half of the 2016 participants, 66.5%, used YouTube and 31.7% of these participants used it to engage with and/or learn about wineries and tasting rooms.
- Pinterest: in 2013, 12% felt it was mandatory for wineries and tasting rooms to implement a Pinterest account and 6.6% of participants used it to connect with companies.
- In 2016, 39.9% of participants used Pinterest at least once a month and 34.5% of these participants used it to engage with and/or learn about wineries and tasting rooms.
- Instagram: Only 10.4% of participants in 2013 felt Instagram was mandatory for wineries and tasting rooms to implement and 6.4% used Instagram to connect with companies.
- In 2016, 45.7% of participants used Instagram at least once a month and 41.4% of these participants used it to engage with and/or learn about wineries and tasting rooms.
Tips for Creating Social Media Networks for Your Winery and/or Tasting Room and How to Increase Engagement
Based on the data presented above, it is evident that our survey participants used certain social media networks and review sites to engage with and/or learn about wineries and tasting rooms. The number of social networks and review sites can be intimidating, especially when choosing which networks to invest the time and effort needed to successfully engage with followers.
Here are some tips to help you create an engaging social media presence:
- Posts with videos and photos are more engaging than posts with just text (especially for Facebook and Twitter) (http://bit.ly/2iFFBBe).
- The Facebook News Feed algorithm recently changed and text-only status updates will now need to include an embedded link. The link needs to be mobile friendly and of “good” quality, which is based on how long Facebook users remain on the “linked” site. The longer a user spends “reading an article away from Facebook” the “higher” the link quality (http://ly/2mDvjQU).
- Be sure to use social media to engage followers in a “two-way conversation” by commenting on their posts, asking them questions, and answering the questions they post.
- Contests, promotions, and offering prizes and discounts is an effective way to generate interest and engagement – especially if participants have to post an image or comment on a post in order to be considered for a prize. Also, include offers that either need to be redeemed in the tasting room or require consumers to follow to receive offers or gain access to a special event.
- Always add links on your website, business cards, and tasting room displays that lead to your social media accounts.
- Don’t publish the exact same post to each of your accounts. Create unique posts for each social media account to motivate consumers to follow your business on more than one network.
- Follow your competition to learn how they are interacting with wine consumers and how many likes/shares/etc. their posts generate.
- Mention complementary businesses in your posts to build important linkages and increase the number of social media users who see your message and learn about your wines and tasting room experience (http://bit.ly/2nwUhBS).
It is important to remember that social media “is about building trust as well as relationships – and that comes from not selling” (Dave Brookes, Sales and Marketing Department, Teusner Wines, http://bit.ly/2nDgCSm). This is why, no matter which platform(s) you use for your business, your overall goal should be to “connect” with your followers and provide information that will help them enjoy wine.
To determine which social media networks you should have an active presence, ask your customers and tasting room visitors:
- If they use social media and, if yes, which accounts they use,
- which ones they use to follow businesses and which they would prefer to use to connect with your business, and
- what information they would like you to share on via social media (e.g., new wines, promotions, events, pairings, and recipes).
Once you’ve developed your social media presence, analyze each network to learn if your followers find you posts engaging. This can be done through documenting clicks, likes, shares, comments, retweets, coupon use, tasting room visits, etc. A more thorough way of investigating engagement is through network-specific tools such as Facebook Insights, Instagram Insights, and YouTube stats. There are also multiple social media analytics tools, both free and paid, that compile all your platform engagement stats into one report (e.g., Hootsuite, Klout, Simply Measured) (http://bit.ly/2ee4Sg4). These and other tools can be easily found on the Intent by searching for “Social Media Analytics Tools.” We hope you are encouraged to grow your business’s social media presence and engage with your customers. We will continue to share ideas and examples to help you with this important task!
Miller, A.L. Developing Wine Marketing Strategies for the Mid-Atlantic Region. Thesis. The Pennsylvania State University, 2015.
By: Denise M. Gardner
In a previous post, we discussed ways in which nutrient management during primary fermentation can affect hydrogen sulfide formation and the overall “health” of the wine. This week, we’re going to explore how to mediate hydrogen sulfide aromas and flavors in a finished wine.
Sulfur-Containing Off Aromas
In general, many wine sensory scientists and wine experts will agree that is relatively a bad habit to use the term “sulfur” to describe off-odors associated with hydrogen sulfide or “stinky” aromas that are usually described by the term “reduced.” One of the main arguments for avoiding “sulfur” as a description term for an aroma is due to the fact that there are actually several forms of aromatic sulfur-containing compounds found in wine, and they can have very different aromas (smells, odors) associated with that one compound. The most common groups of aromatic sulfur-containing compounds in wine are:
- Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
- Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
- Mercaptans or Thiols
Additionally, many sensory experts will advise further to avoid using the chemical names as descriptors for describing an aroma found in wine (e.g., using the term “hydrogen sulfide” to describe the hard-boiled or rotten egg aroma). It is typically recommended to use an actual descriptor when describing an aroma (e.g., using the term “rotten eggs” when that smell exists in wine).
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)
Sulfur dioxide is an antioxidant and antimicrobial preservative frequently used in wine production. However, it is also produced by yeast during primary fermentation, which is why wines (and other fermented products) cannot be sulfur dioxide-free (commonly referred to as “sulfite free” in the mass media). The aromatic descriptor commonly associated with a high concentration of sulfur dioxide is termed “burned match,” but a high concentration of sulfur dioxide can also cause a nasal irritation that many will describe as nasal burning. For more information on sulfur dioxide and managing its concentration in wine, please refer to this Wine Made Easy Fact Sheet produced by Penn State Extension.
Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)
Hydrogen sulfide is an aromatic compound that is commonly described as having a “rotten egg” or “hard-boiled egg” aroma. Like many sulfur-containing compounds, hydrogen sulfide has a low sensory threshold (<1 – 1 part per billion, ppb), indicating that about 50% of the population could sense this compound at that concentration without being able to identify it, specifically, as hydrogen sulfide.
As we saw in our previous post, hydrogen sulfide development can result as a component of poor nutrient management during primary fermentation. Residual elemental sulfur from pesticide sprays has also been linked to latent development of hydrogen sulfide in wines. In a 2016 edition of Appellation Cornell, Dr. Gavin Saks’ lab provided a detailed and practical report on how hydrogen sulfide can be a problem for winemakers post-bottling and the potential links to hydrogen sulfide development as a function of residual sulfur from the vineyard (Jastrzembski and Saks, 2016).
Occasionally, winemakers may also experience hydrogen sulfide formation during a sur lie aging period; a time in which the finished wine remains on the lees when lees are stirred in the wine. It is also common for sparkling wines, produced in the traditional method, to exhibit a small perception of hydrogen sulfide when the bottle is first opened.
Mercaptans/Thiols and Disulfides
Finally, mercaptans or thiols, sulfur-containing compounds that contain the functional group –SH, and disulfides, sulfur-containing compounds that contain a S-S bond, can also be problematic for winemakers when found at high concentrations.
The presence of sulfur-containing volatile compounds is not always considered detrimental to wine quality. For some wine grape varieties (e.g., Sauvignon Blanc), these classes of compounds can make up their varietal aroma. In very small concentrations, sulfur-containing compounds can also be aroma enhancers, indicating that their presence can actually make the wine smell fruitier than if they were not present in the wine. However, when at substantial concentrations, volatile sulfur-containing compounds can also produce various “stink” aromas that mask a wine’s fruitiness, freshness, and make the wine generally unappealing. This is phenomena is dependent on the concentration of the sulfur-containing compound and the chemical makeup of the solution (i.e., wine) it is in.
Mercaptans or thiols and disulfides have a variety of descriptors associated with them, and their perception is largely based on concentration. When we’re discussing the negatively-associated descriptors, common terms include: garlic, onion, canned asparagus, canned corn, cooked cabbage, putrefaction, burnt rubber, natural gas, and molasses amongst others.
Are There Sulfur-Containing Off-Aromas in Your Wine?
To identify if hydrogen sulfide, mercaptans/thiols, or disulfide-based off-odors exist in your wine, it may be best to use a copper screen as a bench trial. While analytical identification of these compounds is possible, it is often expensive and leaves the winemaker guessing on what to do next.
For a quick assessment of a wine’s aroma, winemakers can drop 1-2 pre-1985 copper pennies into a glass of wine to see if the aroma freshens. The freshening aroma is due to the fact that the copper from the penny is reacting with the sulfur-containing compounds in the wine and making them aromatically inactive.
A technical copper screen takes a bit more work and should be conducted in a quiet and aromatically-neutral environment. It is recommended to do this outside of the cellar.
Copper addition, in the form of copper sulfate, is often used to remediate aromas/flavors associated with hydrogen sulfide. One-percent and 10% copper sulfate solutions can be purchased through your local wine supplier. The basic protocol associated with a copper screen is as follows:
- Add 50 milliliters of wine to two glasses.
- Label one glass “control” and the other “copper addition” (see image below).
- Add 1 mL of 1% copper sulfate to the “copper addition” glass.
- Cap both glasses for 15 minutes. Sniff the aroma of each wine.
Sniff (smell only!) both glasses. Most people start with the “control” and smell the treated wine (wine containing copper sulfate) second. If the aroma/flavor of the “copper addition” glass has improved, or the hydrogen sulfide aroma has subsided, then a copper addition trial should follow to determine the exact concentration of hydrogen sulfide needed to clean up the wine in question. Remember that the legal limit for copper allowed in a finished wine is 0.5 ppm. For a full protocol on how to run a copper addition bench trial, please refer to this Penn State Extension Wine Made Easy Fact Sheet.
Treatment of Sulfur-Containing Compound Off-Aromas
Sulfur-containing compounds are quite reactive, which can make dealing with them fairly difficult. Many educators agree that the best way to treat sulfur-containing compounds, especially those that stink, is to prevent their existence as best as possible.
In the Appellation Cornell newsletter that focused on sulfur pesticide residues, Jastrzembski and Saks (2016) recommended that sulfur residue concentrations should not exceed 1 mg/kg at harvest in order to avoid latent hydrogen sulfide or sulfur-containing off-aromas later in processing and storage. Additionally, many experts recommend appropriately treating fermenting musts with nutrient management strategies based on the starting YAN concentration to minimize the incidence of hydrogen sulfide formation during primary fermentation. This topic was covered in a previous blog post.
As described above, winemakers may also opt to treat the wine with copper sulfate to try to reduce the perception of hydrogen sulfide or other sulfur-containing aromas. It should be noted that aromas caused by disulfides cannot be mediated with a copper sulfate addition.
There has been more conversation in the academic community regarding the reemergence of hydrogen sulfide or sulfur-containing off-aromas after a wine has been treated with copper and post-bottling. The theory around this appears to circulate around residual copper initiating reactions in the wine that lead to more sulfur-containing off-odors. This continues to be an ongoing discussion amongst researchers and will likely be a hot topic within with the wine industry. For now, it is important for winemakers to understand that there may be a risk of off-odors reemerging post-copper treatment and post-bottling. This topic will also be discussed to some degree at the 2017 PA Wine Marketing and Research Board Symposium on March 29, 2017 in State College, PA, and winemakers are encouraged to attend.
Some hydrogen sulfide or sulfur-containing off-odors can sometimes be mediated with use of fresh lees stirred in the wine or the addition yeast lees-like products. Winemaking products like Lallemand’s Reduless, yeast hulls, or some cellulose-based products can help reduce or eliminate the intensity of these off-odors. As with any other product additions, it is recommended that wineries always do bench trials first and before adding to the entire volume of wine. Additionally, Enartis USA (Vinquiry) has previously distributed a fact sheet to help winemakers troubleshoot reduced wines and determine how to best treat a problem wine.
The incidence of reduction, sulfur-containing off-odors, or hydrogen sulfide can be a frustrating circumstance for winemakers. However, adequate vineyard care and proper nutrient management during primary fermentation can help minimize the incidence rate of sulfur-containing off-odors from occurring in their wines. Of course, problems with wines do occur, and we hope that the recommendations above will help winemakers solve wine problems pertaining to sulfur-containing off-odors.
Jastrzembski, J. and G. Sacks. 2016. Sulfur Residues and Post-Bottling Formation of Hydrogen Sulfide. Appellation Cornell, 3a.
By Michela Centinari, Bryan Hed, and Kathy Kelley
The 2016 growing season was a rewarding one for many Pennsylvania (PA) wine grape growers. But before we move on with plans for next year, let’s review this past season using some interesting data we gathered from PA grape growers. In November 2016, we sent out a 5-min Internet survey developed by our team and housed on SurveyMonkey.com. A link to the survey was sent to 90 members of a PA wine grape grower extension electronic mailing list. Thirty-seven participants clicked the link and responded to questions related to the 2016 harvest and growing season.
All procedures were approved by the Office of Research Protections at The Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA). Upon completion of the survey, each participant was entered into a raffle to win one of three $25 gift certificates that could be redeemed toward any Penn State Extension wine or grape program fee.
This article is based on our observations and feedback we received from survey participants. We welcome more PA wine grape growers to share their stories and to send us (Michela Centinari; Bryan Hed) their contact information so they can be included in future surveys (where else do you have a chance to win a gift card for a Penn State Extension event?).
First, some information about the respondents
Thirty-three survey participants (89%) indicated the region where they grew grapes. The majority of the respondents (11) were from the Southeast region, followed by Northwest (7), Northeast (6), South Central (4), North Central (3), and Southwest (2) regions.
Data that described what species of grapes survey participants grew were: Vitis vinifera (e.g., Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay), Vitis interspecific hybrid (e.g., Chambourcin, Traminette, Vidal Blanc), abbreviated in Table 1 as vinifera and hybrid, respectively, and native (e.g., Concord, Niagara) cultivars (Table 1).
What did we ask the survey participants?
Participants were asked to rank the average yield of the grapes they grew in 2016 from “poor” to “record crop.” They were also asked to rank the average quality of the fruit from “poor” to “excellent,” and the insect and disease pressure experienced from “below average” to “above average.” Respondents were then directed to open-ended questions where they indicated what cultivars performed below or above average and why.
Survey participant responses
- Yield: The majority of the respondents (88%) indicated that average crop yield was “average” “above average,” or “record crop” (Figure 1). Only four participants (12%) indicated that average yield was “below average” or “poor.”
Of those four respondents, two attributed “poor” or “below average” yield to disease issues (e.g., powdery mildew, black rot). One survey participant from the Southeast region indicated problems with freeze injury as the vines were approaching bud burst. Specifically, the participant wrote: “My whites especially Chardonnay were light (lower crop yield than average) this year. I believe the whites were hit hard with the early April freezes when we had three nights in a row dip down into the 20’s. I believe many of the primary buds froze. Most of the white grape clusters were much smaller than usual.”
An unusually warm March was indeed followed by a very cold start to the month of April. Between April 3 and 10, there were several nights in the 20’s ºF in many regions of PA. While there was no sign of bud burst, as far as we are aware, for grapevines grown in central or north PA, some were approaching bud burst in several areas of south central and southeast PA.
The fourth respondent from northwest PA commented that “Vines are still recovering from 2014 winter injury, and that is too expensive to replant large percentage.” Despite long-term issues with winter injury recovery, finally, after two harsh winters (2013-2014; 2014-2015) PA grape growers were able to enjoy the winter without having to worry about their vines. In many regions of PA, winter temperatures did not reach critical low values that tend to injure many of the cultivars grown in the Commonwealth. However, on February 14 temperatures reached -10°F and below in northeast PA. The lowest temperature recorded (-19°F) was in Potter County. Despite this isolated event, we did not receive inquires of growers concerned about winter injury.
- Fruit quality: The majority of the respondents (83%) ranked fruit quality as “above average” or “excellent,” which was consistent across cultivars and regions. Only one grower rated fruit quality as “below average” as a consequence of high disease pressure.
A few survey participants from southeast PA who rated fruit quality from “above average” to “excellent” commented:
“Early veraison and high heat degree days in September allowed the early varietal to ripen in almost perfect condition. The Bordeaux reds .. in late September and early October soaked up a lot of rain and didn’t recover completely from this. I harvested Merlot clusters bigger than I have ever seen them”
“Bordeaux varieties (Cabs, Merlot, Petit Verdot) were at least 23ºBrix with a high of 25. Nice and ripe with good flavors”
“Grüner, Riesling, Merlot, Chambourcin, and Cabernet Franc achieved mature ripe flavor. Acids were in ideal range”
Other survey participants from across the state also indicated that in 2016 the grapes reached “Optimal ripeness and acidity level,” “Good acid balance,” “Berry size, color, acids, pH, and sugars were the best ever,” “Excellent cultivar character.”
Several respondents pointed out that “Hot and dry weather played an important role in the quality this year” and commented that fruit was clean from major diseases.
- Insect and disease pressure: Almost half of the growers who participated in the survey (47%) experienced “below average” insect and disease pressure during the 2016 growing season, while 41% answered “average” and only 12 % “above average.”
Of the four participants who reported “above average” disease pressure, one indicated problems with spotted Lanternfly an invasive insect who unfortunately is making its way to some areas of PA (Spotted Lanternfly: A new invasive pest detected in Pennsylvania). Two respondents reported issues with powdery mildew. Powdery mildew was indeed very much “alive and well” in many vineyards in 2016. In Erie County, we witnessed flare-ups of this disease on fruit during late June and early July, despite relatively prudent control measures and relatively few primary infection periods. This disease requires rainfall events early in the season for spore release only (minimum of 0.1 inches of rain and temperatures above 50ºF), but once spores are released the pathogen does not require wet plant surfaces to infect susceptible tissue and generate subsequent waves of its parasitic life cycle. This is very much unlike most of the other fungal pathogens we deal with each year. Note that even California growers spend a boatload of time and treasure controlling this disease every year. In short, it is a disease management issue wherever grapes are grown, every year, everywhere. Fortunately, aside from a few horror stories where there were gaps in spray intervals around bloom, most growers managed to get decent commercial control of this disease on their grapes in 2016.
Weather conditions during the growing season
A look at the weather conditions through the online network for environment and weather applications (http://newa.cornell.edu/) can help interpreting survey participant responses. In Figure 4 and 5, we reported data collected by the two new weather stations located nearby the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension center (FREC) in Biglerville (Adams County, south central PA) and at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension center (LERGREC) in North East (Erie county, northwestern PA). We compared the 2016 monthly growing degree days (GDD) (index of heat accumulation) and precipitation to the mean values for April through October for a three-year period (2013-2015) (Figures 4, 5).
Temperature: Despite a cool start to the 2016 season (see April and May) the rest of the season was warmer than average in PA and other parts of the eastern U.S. Indeed, the heat accumulated (GDD) from June through October in 2016 was above that of the previous three-year average (Figure 4).
The warm weather led in many cases to great fruit ripening conditions, as indicated by the majority of the respondents, but in a few instances may have hindered fruit sugar accumulation as noticed by one of the participants: “I think that heat in August slowed ripening and resulted in lower Brix than other years but all fruit did achieve ripeness.” High temperatures might increase plant respiration rates to a greater degree than photosynthesis rates, which in other words means lower carbon gain /sugar accumulation for the vine and fruit. A detailed explanation of why this happens can be found in the September issue of Viticulture notes edited by Tony Wolf (Professor and Viticulture Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech).
Precipitation: Rainfall in the spring and early summer was well below average in Erie County (northwestern PA) with 2.1, 1.9, and 2.7 inches of rain in May, June, and July, respectively (Figure 5B). Dry weather often comes hand in hand with a higher number of sunny days and higher temperatures; two additional factors that stymie fungal pathogen growth.
Peak grape disease susceptibility generally occurs during June and early July in PA. Both June and July were drier than average in many parts of the state: see for example Biglerville (south central PA) with only 2.7 and 0.2 inches of rain in June and July, respectively (Figure 5A), or other sites across the state (Table 2: Lewisburg, State College, and Cabot). This helps to explain the large percentage of growers reporting average to below average disease pressure. However, in other parts of the state or near the eastern PA border it was not quite as dry but still warm (Table 2, numbers in bold font).
In places and months where rainfall amounts were well above average, rainfall was often heavy and punctuated by well defined, often lengthy dry periods in which growers could easily keep up with their protective fungicide sprays. Unfortunately, there were a few locations where diseases like black rot flared out of control, but those were the exceptions rather than the rule (Figure 3).
In summary “dry, sunny, and warm” sums up the weather for the majority of the growing season for many regions of the state, with local and ample variations on precipitation amount. For the most part, these conditions are rather hostile to the fungal or fungal-like pathogens that are responsible for the majority of our grape disease issues every year. This was very fortunate for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that 2016 was following a year that left many vineyards with well above average levels of overwintering inoculum for diseases like black rot and downy mildew. This was especially true in northwestern PA; downy mildew could be found in pretty much every vineyard in Erie County in 2015, despite the fact that the vast majority of the grape acreage is planted to Concord, a variety with relatively low susceptibility to downy mildew. A wet spring and early summer could have left growers really struggling hard to keep those diseases under control on fruit this year. But downy mildew literally “took a vacation” in the Lake Erie region in 2016. It was the most downy mildew-free season Bryan experienced over his 18 seasons of working with grapes. You might say that many PA grape growers got a small taste of what it’s like to grow grapes in California.
When ripening begins, our attention naturally turns toward controlling bunch rots on susceptible varieties. Varieties that produce “tight,” compact clusters are most at risk, and for these control measures are essential. Fortunately, survey participants did not indicate bunch rot issues this season. In Erie, as well as many other locations in PA rainfall resumed by the second week in August (Figure 5), and the ripening period was actually relatively wet through September. As you know, rainfall during ripening leads to bunch rot problems (Late summer/early fall grape disease control) and we did see rot problems develop early in vineyards of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir with extremely tight clusters despite measures to reduce cluster compactness and a barrage of fungicide applications. In those vineyards, the crop had to be harvested early, before optimum ripeness. However, at LERGREC, rot control was especially good in Vignoles (another cultivar susceptible to bunch rot) where we applied mechanized pre-bloom fruit zone leaf removal in combination with Botrytis specific fungicides at veraison and beyond.
In conclusion, it was a rewarding growing season for many PA wine grape growers. Warm, (mostly) dry conditions favored the production of a high-quality vintage and we are looking forward to tasting this season’s wines!