MACKINAW — A sweet and fruity smell hangs in the air at Mackinaw Valley Vineyard as owner Paul Hahn feeds freshly picked grapes into a juice ex-tractor.
Harvest season is about two weeks ahead of schedule at the Tazewell County vineyard. And Hahn and his wife, Diane, are facing lower yields this year as a result of months of extreme hot and dry temperatures. The 20 varieties of vines have produced grapes smaller than their average size.
But unlike corn and soybean farmers in Central Illinois, who also are facing smaller yields, some grape growers may still come out ahead, said Hahn.
“This should be a good year for wine,” said Diane Hahn, adding it will be available for purchase in 2013.
Flavors and sugars in the fruit have intensified this year which will result in better-tasting wine, she said, adding the price of wine is not expected to increase. With higher-quality wine, the wine industry in Illinois can benefit as a whole, Hahn added.
At White Oak Vineyards in Carlock, owners Mary and Rudi Hofmann, are not as optimistic. The Hofmanns are nearly done with harvest, almost a month ahead of normal, and they picked about half their normal yield.
“There’s not a lot of juice this year; it’s not a big har-vest,” said Mary Hofmann. “It’s a big cut of what finally comes into the bottle and in the long run it could cause the price to go up for us.”
Hofmann said the couple’s crops were more severely impacted because rainfall that reached other Central Illinois towns didn’t reach them.
“We had very little foliage in our vines. Our entire vineyard was barren of foliage,” she said.
Bill McCartney, executive director for the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, said grape yields will vary greatly by region this year.
“Here in Pike County, a grower told me that his yields are going to be a little bit better this year,” said McCartney.
McCartney said the more than 90 wineries in Illinois already contribute about $257 million into the economy. But even with a drier year, he expects that to increase.
“I’m sure that’s going to increase,” said McCartney.
Grape vines in Illinois can withstand drier conditions because they have roots that extend up to 20 feet below the surface for moisture. This makes them a viable option for farmers who are looking into growing grapes, he said.