Harsh winter, cool summer deals deadly blow to grape crop

Posted at 3:53 PM, Oct 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-20 21:16:27-04

WEST MICHIGAN - A harsh winter and cool summer dealt a blow to grape growers across the state, leaving some vineyards more than 50 percent short of their average harvest.

Dean Bender, co-owner and winemaker at Lawton Ridge Winery, has been growing grapes for more than 30 years. He tells FOX 17 that 2014’s two-punch combo of a harsh winter and cool summer killed more than half of his grape crop.

“In mid-January we recorded not only record snowfall…but we recorded temperatures down to 13 below zero for an extended period of time,” Bender said.

The average haul at Lawton Ridge is between 36 and 38 tons, but not this year.

“In terms of tonnage, we’re probably almost 20 tons shy of where we should be,” explained Bender.

Lawton Ridge isn’t the only vineyard and winery suffering from the adverse growing conditions. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry says it’s anticipating losses of about half the state’s wine crop compared to the record crop in 2013. Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio varieties took the brunt of the hit.

“We hoped that some magical thing would happen and that we were wrong in our prognostication,” said Bender. “It turned out that we were pretty accurate.”

Despite the crippling conditions, Lawton Ridge had a wild card.

“In 201, we had a bumper crop,” Bender explained. “It was a great year - we had heat; we had moisture at all the right times and we had extra grapes that we processed.”

Because of its excellent harvest in 2013, Bender says Lawton Ridge will be able to cover its losses from 2014.