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Heat wave stresses local vineyard grapes

Thursday - 7/5/2012, 8:35am  ET

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Hot weather delays photosynthesis, which can affect wine flavor, says Jennifer McCloud. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
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Hot weather not great for wine grapes

WTOP's Neal Augenstein talks with Jennifer McCloud, owner of Chrysalis Vineyards

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Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

MIDDLEBURG, Va. - Since sunlight makes wine grapes sweeter, it figures the recent heat wave would have local wine grape growers and vineyards celebrating.

Not exactly.

"Really hot weather like this, the grapes don't like it any more than we do," says Jennifer McCloud, owner of Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg.

Standing in the sunlight, between rows of tightly bunched Norton grapes, McCloud says she (and the grapes) would prefer some rain.

"We've been witnessing what I'm calling 'Mediterranean summers,' where you get these hot, cloudless, sun-drenched days," says McCloud.

McCloud says this weather delays the photosynthesis process.

"So you're getting high sugar content, but you're not getting some of the ripe flavors," she says.

The weather also makes it more difficult for grapes to attain the nuanced flavors needed for wine.

"That also results in higher alcohol levels, which creates wines that are too clumsy, overbearing, overpowering -- too alcoholic," McCloud says.

Her vineyard lost electrical power during the recent storm. But that only slightly affects wine already aging in barrels.

"There's a lot of thermal mass inside the winery with all those cased goods and barrels, and the winery facility is well-insulated, so the temperature is very slowly going up," she says. "Not such a big deal."

While vineyards in Italy existed generations before air conditioning, "They also had caves," says McCloud.

"They also made white wines that have a sherry or Madeira quality," McCloud said.

"These really fresh bright wines -- like sauvignon blanc -- it really requires cooler conditions."

McCloud has rented a generator, which will begin cooling the wine that's in barrels and already bottled in the winery.

"I'm looking forward to getting back to our typical Virginia weather, with rain throughout the summer," she says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)