By Brian Calandrelli, Niagara Correspondent

This summer has tested vineyard managers throughout Niagara County, NY with rainy, humid and sometimes dangerous weather patterns. Hail fell from the sky at least three times, which made many in the industry rethink their expectations for their crops this year. I’ve read several reports on bad weather in Bordeaux, Burgundy and even on this site about Long Island, so it’s not all that surprising that our cool climate in the Niagara region wasn’t spared.

I walked through Martin Schulze’s vineyard after the last hailstorm and the damage was obvious.

On the east side of the vines, the bunches looked great but on the west side, the direction the precipitation came from, the story was much different. It looked as if a shotgun had been aimed at these grapes, with around 30 percent of the berries compromised. Martin told me that over the next few days those berries would just dry up and fall off. Adding what I thought was the only optimistic view one could have seeing the damage, I offered, “Well at least the berries left will ripen faster now that they’ve been thinned by Mother Nature.”

Interestingly, Schulze Vineyards has a few east-west running rows that saw little to no damage at all from the hail.

At Freedom Run Winery and Vineyards in Lockport, where the photo at the beginning of this post was taken, there was minimal damage because the couple of hailstorms they had were earlier in the season before the grapes were tender and susceptible.

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, which is literally just above Freedom Run on the escarpment, saw the same weather. Co-wner Robin Ross sent me this comment concerning the bad weather:

“The rainfall this year has given us a very full canopy in the vineyard, which was a blessing when the hail hit. We did have some berry damage, but the fruit overall looks great. Managing the canopy and keeping the weeds hoed has been a daily effort…”

Like all farmers, grape growers must take what Mother Nature gives them and press on. Nobody is still talking about last month’s weather, as they’re all looking forward to the coming harvest.

And speaking of harvest, I got to help out Freedom Run last week for the harvest of their champagne clone pinot noir grapes. With their sights set on creating a Blanc de Noir, the weather didn’t ruin the plan, as the sugar and acid levels were ideal for bubbly.