RONDA — North Carolina Extension Agent Joanna Radford returned Friday from a tour of Raffaldini Vineyards’ grape drying facilities with more information to help local growers perhaps considering adding grape production to their agricultural opportunities.
“They (Raffaldini) are one of the few vineyards I know of locally drying grapes,” said Radford, who explained she was interested in talking to Raffaldini Winemaker Kiley Evans to bring back more information to share at the monthly Surry County Vinedressers meetings. “They take down a lot of data and take such great care of separating the grape varieties. They can even tell you the percentage grapes have been dehydrated. It’s impressive.”
Evans said Raffaldini has been successfully drying fruit prior to wine making since 2011 and has completed a new building constructed as a drying room. He said the vineyard dried more than 32 tons of fruit in 2013.
Radford said the vineyard doesn’t dry all of the varieties of grapes they produce and the technique could be used by local grape producers as another way to save a harvest threatened by late season rains.
“It (drying) adds to the flavor of some of the wines they make,” Radford said. “This could be good news to those in our area who have had all their hard work threatened by the heavy, late rains we typically have had the last few years.” Both Evans and Radford said the relatively new strategy does not take away the increasingly scientific nature of agriculture and the long hours required of farmers as harvest time approaches.
“I think we have been on the forefront of using this technique on the Eastern seaboard,” said Evans, who explained Vineyard owner Jay Raffaldini was inspired and championed wines produced using drying of grapes from his experiences in Italy. He said the process has become an important tool to produce wine in the fruit-dominated, full-bodied style with a more consistent process.
“Whenever possible, I like to try and dispel the romanticism of what I do for a living. At harvest time there is no clock. Farmers go without a lot of sleep. You don’t see this glamorized by Hollywood. During harvest I like to see these young, fit looking new hires start having to catch up to the veterans. By the third week the Ben Gay starts coming out,” Evans said.
“Sure I taste wines once, maybe twice a week but this is not a glamorous lifestyle. Wine producers work really hard. There is a fine line between using techniques like this to push the envelope a little farther and knowing when to back away. It takes a lot of science to deal with what Mother Nature gives you. I get charged up about having a defined goal and what I do is the coolest sandbox ever. It’s a lot of fun.”
He said other issues he deals with when talking with fledgling grape producers is varieties of grapes. He said wine making sometimes relies on quality first and quantity second, which can be strange in a profession focused on yield per acre. Evans said another area for discussion is vineyard location, which he feels should be approached strategically.
“In Europe for instance, the best land was set aside for food crops such as wheat and potatoes and poorer land left over was used for grapes because wine was a luxury item,” Evans said.
Radford echoed this by saying poorer land can help keep the vines from producing more leaves than fruit.
Evans discussed how published reports from Virginia indicated a shortage of grapes for winemakers, caused by numbers of vineyards far outpacing the acreage producing wine grapes. He said North Carolina has this situation to some degree but there’s room for farmers to balance future uses and grape production as part of a longer term strategy.
The Surry County Vinedressers group meets the third Thursday of every month in the Extension Center in Dobson. Meetings are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and persons wanting more information may call 336-401-8025.
David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave