TRAVERSE CITY — Mother and daughter team Frances and Angelica Rodriguez gently cupped clusters of pinot gris grapes in a vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula, then snipped them off the vine and deposited them into buckets.
They were among a dozen-plus workers who picked grapes Friday at Chateau Chantal for the first time this week.
Their work was supposed to begin Monday afternoon, but rain kept them away from grapes and in apple orchards instead.
Heavy rain this month — right around grape harvest time — deposited up to four inches in some areas in just a few days. And the Traverse City area, known for its bountiful vineyards and award-winning wines, wasn’t spared.
Downpours can cause grapes to absorb water and dilute the flavors and sugars, said Erwin “Duke” Elsner, a small fruit educator with Michigan State University Extension.
It can also cause mold to grow, especially among tightly clustered pinot gris grapes.
“It made us wait a little longer for that process to be reversed a bit by getting sunny and warm weather,” said Elsner. “That put a little delay into our harvest plan.”
Grape-ripening this year already was slowed by cool weather that preceded the rain, Elsner said. Sunny, dry conditions in October are ideal for grape maturation.
But the rain didn’t put a damper on farmers’ high expectations for the crop, which they expect to be on par with 2008’s well-regarded crop.
“I was real happy with the wines that came out of 2008, and we’re hoping to see the same again this year,” said Adam Satchwell, winemaker and general manager at Shady Lane Cellars on the Leelanau Peninsula.
Recent rains disrupted harvesters’ schedules more so than the crop.
“It puts a little crimp in our style and then it costs us a little bit more because we had to put an extra spray on some varieties (to prevent mold),” said Mark Johnson, the vinter at Chateau Chantel.
The rain minimally affected grapes’ sugar content because most varieties are mature enough to withstand weather fluctuations.
“Normally there’s the danger of that added water reducing the sugar content in the grapes, but we haven’t noticed a huge drop in sugar levels. And the one benefit of all the rain is it also helps reduce the acid levels in the juice, so that’s a good thing,” said Jim Rink, whose family owns Boskydel Vineyard in Lake Leelanau.