Illinois Harvest: South Central Dichotomy
Oppressive hot weather in far Southern Illinois this summer stressed white grapes in particular, said Scott Sensmeier, Owner and Vintner at Starview Vineyards, near Cobden, Illinois on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. According to the National Weather Service in nearby Paducah, Kentucky, the temperature was over 90 degrees 37 days in a row with three days of 104 degree highs. Vignoles in particular did not appreciate the scorching heat, Sensmeier said. “We brought in experts from Southern Illinois University to look at our vineyards and they said the issues were just drought and heat stress,” he said.
Fortunately, Sensmeier reports that the red grapes he grows handled the heat well. “Our Chambourcin looks great this year and the Norton is looking very good too.” He added that all grapes except the Norton have been harvested and they will be harvested during early October.
Sensmeier, who has been growing grapes for six years, said that conditions were wet during bloom and berry set in Southern Illinois this year. The wet weather in mid-May resulted in fewer berries than normal. Then the hot weather kicked in. “2010 was a great year in the vineyard,” Sensmeier said. “2011 was more of a challenge.”
200 miles North of Starview Vineyards, Brad Beam, Winemaker at Willett’s Winery and Cellar in Manito, Illinois reports some heat related issues but a good year in general. “We were all harvested in mid-August,” Beam said. “2011 was a very early season for harvest in Central Illinois.” Beam said that bud break occurred early this Spring, then hot, dry weather dominated the growing season.
“We had a lighter crop load as a result of the dryness in Central Illinois,” Beam said. “The lighter crop load will mean higher sugar and more intense flavor in our 2011 vintage wines, though.” Willett’s has an all hybrid roster which includes Leon Millot and Frontenac.
Illinois is the only Midwestern state that spans Zones 5 through 7 of the USDA hardiness map. Northern Illinois has a climate similar to Central Wisconsin while Southern Illinois is in the same climate zone as Northern Mississipi.