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Wine drinkers rejoice! State’s grape crop OK

Tim Kellogg Oswego harvests grapes Saturday August 18 2012 Fox Valley Winery vineyard Sheridan. Unlike this year's corn soybean crops

Tim Kellogg of Oswego harvests grapes on Saturday, August 18, 2012, at the Fox Valley Winery vineyard in Sheridan. Unlike this year's corn and soybean crops, the drought conditions have not affected grape growth. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 21, 2012 6:10AM

The drought of 2012 is already legend, its destruction of corn, soybeans and most crops well-documented.

But there is one cash crop in Northern Illinois that has fared OK during the drought, albeit a small one — grapes.

It turns out drought is not as hard on grapes used in making wine as it is on corn, soybeans or even the bluegrass in people’s lawns.

“We have found that to be the case,” said Dick Faltz, owner of Fox Valley Winery, 5400 Route 34, Oswego. “The vines have a very deep taproot — the taproot is 20 feet in the ground.”

Anthony Peccoux, Viticulture Program Leader at the University of Missouri’s Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology, said drought does decrease the growth of vines and grape yields, “but compared to other crops the grape is different because the vine has deep roots.”

Also, grapevines are a perennial plant, rather than an annual, like corn or soybeans, so their root systems are more established and already have taken root in water deep in the soil.

During a moderate drought, grapes actually do very well.

“Moderate drought conditions, occurring now when the berries turn red, usually improve the quality in most cultivars,” said Peccoux.

Of course, this is no moderate drought.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said the United States is experiencing its widest drought since 1956 with more than 70 percent of the country abnormally dry.

U.S. Drought Monitor says the severe conditions continue to expand across the Midwest with nearly two-thirds of the region now suffering the effects of the drought.

According to the Midwest Wine Press, about 6 percent of the Midwest is in what is considered extreme drought, and there, vineyards not irrigated can have trouble. Part of that area is in Southern Illinois.

While Fox Valley Winery has its tasting area and wine-making facility in Oswego, the vineyard is further west, near Sheridan. Faltz said because the vineyard is on land along the Fox River, it is irrigated, and the grapes have fared well.

But he can attest to the beating the drought has given Southern Illinois. Fox Valley Winery uses four different vineyards there, and already has “rejected the fruit” from two of them, Faltz said.

“It really is an ecological disaster,” he said.

In Maple Park, in western Kane County, drivers at Meridith Road and Route 38 can clearly see the vineyard for Acquaviva Winery, and its wine-making facility, tasting areas and restaurant across the highway.

Acquaviva’s Denise Cimmarrusti said their grapes have been hurt a little by the drought, but not too much. She said the grapes need about an inch of rain a week, and have been occasionally getting that much.

Both wineries said the drought aside, the consistent mid-90s temperatures have been more of a problem. Faltz said when the weather is too hot, the grapes do not grow or ripen.

“So they’re only getting a few hours of growth a day on those plants,” he said.

Cimmarrusti said while the grape harvest usually is in September and October, Acquaviva might start early this year, in early September, because of the heat.

Acquaviva had about 20 acres planted with 19 different grape varieties. The winery makes eight of its own wines — four dry reds and four whites that range from dry to sweet.

Fox Valley Winery makes a number of wines — dry, semi dry-semi sweet, sweet, reserve and boxed.

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