Local News

Vineyards Turn Lack of Water Into Wine Wealth

Posted October 24, 2007 7:37 p.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2007 8:24 p.m. EDT

— The drought has dried up all kinds of crops across the state, but vineyard owners are having a bounteous year.

"They [grapes] look pretty doggone good for this time of year," winery owner Debbie Stikeleather.

Stikeleather and her husband grow grapes on 8 acres at the Iron Gate Farm, north of Mebane, near the Orange-Alamance county line.

When grapes begin to ripen after July 1, warm, dry weather makes for more palatable wine.

"[You get] higher sugar levels with more concentrated flavor," Stikeleather said.

Vineyard owners didn't have to spray as many chemicals this year, either.

"We've had less disease in the vineyards because we haven't had that high humidity level," Stikeleather said.

Vineyard owners said that despite their good fortune, they know a lot of farmers are suffering.

"We don't say this out loud too much to other farmers. We're afraid they will throw rocks at us. But it has been a wonderful year for grapes," Stikeleather said.

It has been a bittersweet year for white grapes. An Easter freeze damaged the early budding  grapes, so there are fewer varieties of white wines this year.

"Flu Fire" is a popular white wine made with muscadine grapes.

"It gets its name from the flu-cured tobacco barns that used to be so prevalent in this area," Stikeleather said.

Muscadine grapes were among those hurt by the April freeze.

"I was scared to death that I would not be able to find some this year because it goes into my best-selling white wine," Stikeleather said.

Stikeleather also said the red wines will have the most full-bodied flavor this year, thanks to the drought.

"I think folks next year are gonna be looking for that 2007 vintage wine," Stikeleather said.

The number of wineries in the state has more than doubled since 2002. At least 10 more were expected to open by the end of the year.

Last year, the state produced about $46 million worth of wine.