Rainy summer has winemakers watching out for wet weather

CHANCEFORD TOWNSHIP, YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- July's heavy rainfall has winemakers keeping an eye on the growth of their crops.

For some wine drinkers, dry might be their preferred taste, but for winemakers, dry can be their preferred forecast to prevent vine sickness and foster good grape health.

Severe wet weather often worries winemakers like Allegro Winery co-owner Carl Helrich.

"You're always worried, every time you see rain coming through. For the guys who grow corn and beans, they think 'oh this is great.' For us, we're thinking 'oh, jeez, this could be a bad spell. We could get hail, we could have huge problems," Helrich said.

Vineyard manager Nelson Stewart said "I have a crew of about nine people who are working out in the vineyard, and it's tough for them when it's really hot, and if it's too rainy, they can't work."

Rainy days may keep vineyard workers a lot busier on sunny days taking care of the grapes.

"The more airflow you can get through, the more sunlight you can get in. Sunlight keeps the mildew down because ultraviolet will rid us of all the molds and mildews, but we also have to put some fungicides on there as well to take care of that," Helrich said.

"The rain makes everything grow more, and mostly what I spray, is on the leaves.  If there are new leaves, they aren't sprayed. I have to keep ahead of the growth, so I like it's when it's dry," Stewart said.

"This whole year has been one that has required a lot more extra labor to make sure the vineyard looks good, because when the vines look good, they actually make better grapes. Neatness counts," Helrich added.

There's also a lot of science that goes into every bottle of wine, which is why Helrich has his own weather station.

"So we can gather our own weather data. A lot of it is just being able to remember things. I run my own spread sheets. We track things through the years, and we can see the gradual trends," Helrich said.

The stress of keeping an eye on changing weather patterns could be enough to drive some winemakers to drink.

"I don't need to gamble. I don't need the lottery, I grow grapes. There's enough risk in growing grapes and banking your entire financial future on what Mother Nature might give you, that that's enough risk for me in my life," Helrich said.

While July brought a lot of rainfall, Helrick also has his eyes on September and October.

if severe weather strikes during harvest season, it could cause vines to break off when the grapes are at their peak for picking, and destroy a crop.

"It's like walking a tightrope. When you're on the tightrope, you're on the tightrope for a perfect season. We haven't fallen off the tightrope yet, so I'm happy," Helrich said.