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Grape growers discuss which varieties can best survive winter

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Correspondent

MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (May 9, 2017) — More than 60 varieties of grapes can be grown successfully in the Garden State, though some can handle the state’s winter better than others.
Talking to about 100 winery owners, grape growers and those considering growing grapes at the recent “Grape Expectations” symposium for Garden State grape growers Hemant Gohil, Gloucester County Extension agriculture agent, detailed what growers should consider in choosing varieties to survive winter.
He spoke briefly about a survey to wineries circulated by his office regarding the winter of 2014-15, which was marked by significant snow events every week, at least in central New Jersey.
“Eighty-five percent of our survey respondents reported experiencing winter damage during the winter of 2014-15,” Gohil said, and noted that many of the hybrid vines recovered.
Hybrid grapes seemed to hold up better in colder temps than did pure bred grapes.
“We wanted to see what practices the growers are using to prevent winter damage, and most surprising from the survey: ‘Do you inspect in the spring to identify cold damage?’ Close to 30 percent said ‘No.’ That’s very important,” he said, adding, “I know many of you are new growers.”
“Hilling up [covering the graft union with soil,] is one of the most effective things you can do to protect your vines from cold damage. If you hill up there’s a sub-surface temperature and the difference between the outside temperature and sub-surface temperature can be 30 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Site selection is also important: Half a field can make a whole lot of difference, so make sure you choose the right site for your vines,” Gohil stressed.
After Gohil’s presentation, symposium patrons tasted different kinds of wine made from grapes that tolerate New Jersey winters well.
Gary Pavlis, Atlantic County Extension agriculture agent who has spent most of his career working with winery owners and grape growers, said when Gohil finished his extensive survey of wineries from around the state, “we found four grapes that were making it very well in New Jersey. So I said, ‘Let’s go ahead and taste them.’ I went out and got a couple of good examples” from various New Jersey wineries.
Patrons tasted trimonet, Rieslings, Lemberger/ blaufrankisch and cab franc wines.
“The bottom line here is — I get asked this all the time — what grapes does Jersey grow? The reality is we grow 87 different grapes, and so what are we known for? People think it’s almost some kind of knock on New Jersey. Burgundy France grows chardonnay and pinot noir, but they’ve been doing it for 2,000 years, we haven’t been doing it for 2,000 years and we are experimenting with different grapes. Also, what works in North Jersey isn’t going to work in Cape May and that’s important.
“One of the things I tell New Jersey people all the time that haven’t tried New Jersey wine, you go to a wine festival here and you’ve got everything from blueberry to cabernet,” Pavlis said. On the other hand, “you walk into those wineries in Napa Valley and you’re dealing with merlot, cabernet, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. If you don’t like any of those four, you walk out.”
“We really do have this great cross-section of wines here,” Pavlis said, “so what we have to do is find grapes that will work for us.”