Wis. vineyards take hit from drought

Extreme weather too much of good thing for crops
Wis. vineyards take hit from drought

Usually, a hot and dry summer means good grapes for winemakers.

But extreme weather can take it too far, and area vineyards are finding that out the hard way.

Peter Botham, founder of Botham Vineyards in Barneveld, has no shortage of stressed plants among his vines. He has watched his grapes survive an early spring, a sudden frost, and a record-breaking summer for heat and drought.

High temperatures and low rainfall are typically good news for those grapes. Even though the lack of rain has kept bugs and fungus at bay, Botham says this year is an exception.

“Typically that’s kind of what we want,” Botham said, talking to the dryness and heat. “But there’s a point of, you know, where you’re going in the wrong direction, and right now we are still way too dry.”

“In a normal Wisconsin summer, we get too much rain, which is one of the challenges of growing grapes in Wisconsin,” director of marketing and co-owner Sarah Botham added.

The crop hit its breaking point when the summer sun started burning leaves and turning soil to dust. It has been so dry that the Bothams decided to cut off a quarter of their plants just to relieve them from stress. Also, the harvest will happen three weeks ahead of schedule since the fruit is already ripe.

“This whole season has been a total adventure,” Peter Botham said, “and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the 23 years that I’ve been growing grapes here.”

His wife explained, “It’s always a mystery. You know, you always hope you have a great growing season, you hope that translates to fabulous fruit. This year the growing season has been totally up in the air, so who knows what we’ll get.”

Without knowing the outcome of the grapes, the Bothams don’t know what the wine will be like this time around. Production might be limited as well due to the amount of crop they had to drop.

“Hopefully it’s going to be nice, but I won’t know really until harvest,” Peter Botham said.

Sarah Botham concluded, “You want people to come back and learn something new each time they come, or have a new wine tasting experience each time they come. And because wine varies year to year, it provides that opportunity, and that variance comes from the grape growing season.”