Early thaw: good for drinking wine... not growing it

ILLINOIS (KFVS) - That early wave of warmth could affect the year's wine crop, which is a large driver of the tourism economy in southern Illinois.

If the weather is warm for an extended period of time mid-winter, plants at local vineyards start to "wake up" for the season.

Walkers Bluff Wine Maker Ryan Phelps explained on Monday that a grapevine can typically produce three sprouts, but the first one will produce the most juice, and eventually, wine.

"So, if we get a cold spell after they leaf out,  it basically kills that first chute all the way back," Phelps said. "And the plant will have about half as much fruit as it normally would have."

Phelps said wineries do have fail-safes in place, such as the ability to purchase grapes from out of state, and chemical treatments for the crop.

"There are some chemicals we can use to protect the grape plant to about 28 or 29 degrees after the thaw, but if it's any colder than that, it will burn back that primary chute," Phelps said.

An increase in the price of production could mean increases in prices or availability of certain local varieties of wine.

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