2018 was the rainiest year on record for much of Virginia, and few segments of the state’s economy suffered as much as Virginia grape growers and winemakers.

“It was the worst year I have ever seen in 33 years,” said Virginia Tech’s Tony Wolf, a Winchester based professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and university viticulturist.

Wolf says rain, particularly in the 30 to 45 days before normal harvest, tends to result in the absorption of water by the grapes. This causes a dilution of the sugar and flavor compounds in the grapes. Resulting wines don’t have the ‘concentration’ of aroma and flavor that they would under drier conditions.

“Furthermore, red grapes, depending on variety, might not develop the skin color density that we would like for a deeply pigmented red wine,” said Wolf. “This might result from prolonged cloudy weather, and cooler conditions associated with the rainy weather.”

“Finally, the persistent wetting of grapes and grapevines leads increased disease pressure, particularly fungal diseases. Such disease also reduces the quality of grapes and resulting wine.”

Virginia wine producers aren’t completely at the mercy of the weather.

“Yes, they can harvest early, as many did this year,” said Wolf.  “They also need to exercise perfect ‘canopy management’ – the practices used to modify the arrangement of leaves and the distribution and quantity of leaves on the grapevine canopy.”

And there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Virginia’s wine industry, which has seen significant growth and generated over a billion dollars in economic impact annually, creating thousands of job opportunities.

“Most of our wineries grow different varieties partly to hedge against bad years for a particular variety,” said Wolf. “Consumers will also realize that the wine they buy today might have been ‘grown’ 2 or 3 years ago. The inventory of good and great wines can help a winery ride out a bad vintage now and then.”

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