FREDONIA – This year’s harvest of Concord grapes in Chautauqua County is looking to be one of the most plentiful ever.
Dennis Rak, owner of AA Vineyards on Christy Road, Fredonia, said the cool, wet growing season was so good for the Concord variety of grapes that many farmers had to knock some of the berries to the ground early so the others had a chance to ripen. Rak said the bunches are heavy with large, plump berries that have been drinking up the plentiful rainwater this season.
He said grape-picking machines were used to pick off some of the berries early in the season.
“A good production is about 10 tons to the acre and some of the local vineyards were looking like they could produce 15 tons,” Rak said.
The extra rain forced the growers to have to spray to reduce mold and other diseases, but the good harvest should make up for the cost of spraying, he said.
Rak and his wife, Susan, along with sons Adam and Abram, have owned and operated AA Vineyards for about 23 years.
In addition to 300 acres of Concord grapes, they have about 150 different varieties of wine grapes.
The vineyard is also one the largest producers of grape vines to supply to growers around the country.
Rak said they ship about 3 million vines a year. He said there are areas growing grapes that have not been tried before but new varieties have made it possible for the crop to thrive.
He said that in the last few years, shipments have increased to farms in Kansas and elsewhere in the Midwest. Nursery stock from the AA Vineyards has shipped worldwide but is mainly concentrated throughout the United States.
The local growers anticipate picking most of the Concord grapes by the end of September.
Some of the wine grapes already have been harvested.
Bob Mazza of the Mazza Vineyards and Wineries in Westfield, Mayville and North East, Pa., said the wine grapes have not done as well as the Concords.
Mazza said the wine grapes gather their flavor from the sun and soil and the extra rain this year may have made heavier berries but they may not be as flavorful.
“You can add water but you can’t take the rain away,” Mazza said.
He said that is part of the reason why arid climates in Australia and other countries are finding success with wine grapes.
“They can irrigate to get enough water and add it to the soil if they have to,” he said.
The region from Silver Creek to North East, Pa., is the largest Concord grape growing area in the world, with more than 30,000 acres.
Grapes will be celebrated Sept. 19 to 22 in Silver Creek, when the Festival of Grapes will honor local growers and the agricultural industry that supports about 2,000 jobs in the region.