Although not affected by fire and the smoke as was the California grape crop, Nebraska’s 2020 grape crop was affected by a variety of weather-related events. Final tonnage estimates are roughly half of last year’s (2019) crop.
Initially this year’s cool spring set the pollination period back by 2-3 weeks.
A late spring frost in parts of the state affected Nebraska vineyards and where frost damage occurred, yields automatically became half a crop due to freezing of the primary primary fruiting cluster.
Grapes have small flowers which are susceptible to extreme weather conditions, including wind, cold temperatures and rain. High winds during two weeks in June occurred right when most of the crop was trying to pollinate and additional yield reductions occurred then as well.
Nebraska Wineries and Grape Growers Association president, Mick McDowell of Miletta Vista Winery, St. Paul, NE stated that while we missed the frost event at Miletta, most of our grapes were trying to pollinate right when those two weeks of high winds and high temperatures hit us in June. He continued, that while some grape varieties fared better than others, he noticed a 60% reduction in pollination success in his Edelweiss crop, which translated to a 60% loss in yield. In addition, the majority of his yields were 30% to 50% small than typical.
Edelweiss was named by the association as their signature white grape November 2019 and Nebraska winemakers have won seven (7) Best of Show awards with Edelweiss in the last 15 years. Including a 2020 Best of Show win by Prairie Creek Winery of Central City, NE at a California competition with their 2019 Edelweiss.
Although there appears to be enough Edelweiss on hand, McDowell said, there could be shortages in some winery locations within the state.
While the number of 2020 gallons produced is half that of previous years, it appears that the quality of the 2020 Nebraska grape crop was good and wine makers are optimistic about the 2020 vintage.
Richard Hilske, Cellar 426, Ashland said that his yields and those of growers he relies on also came in 30-50% lower than expected. Richard received Double Gold on some of his 2019 vintages and is also optimistic about the quality of the 2020 wines, Richard said that the flavor profiles for the grapes that came in this year seemed to have deeper qualities which will shine through the 2020 vintage.
With better disease control in 2020, it seemed as if more grapes reached a full maturity and ripeness said Dr. Paul, Read, UNL Viticultural professor. He continued that growers seemed to take advantage of the drier spring, applying fungus controls through the most vulnerable periods of development. Then the Nebraska grapes were better able to use the hot dry summer conditions for an increased quality of the fruit that was harvested, Read said.
The 2020 vintages are far from bottled, but with the improvements Nebraska wine makers have made in the last 10 years, McDowell and Read are hoping for another banner year for Nebraska’s 2020 vintage.