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Barrels of rains make it hard for area farmers to produce casks of wine
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Cavender Creek Vineyards and Winery owner Raymond Castleberry inspects his grapes. Heavy rains and an overabundance of rainfall has kept Castleberry on his toes fighting fungi on his plants and trying to stay on top of maintenance at his Lumpkin County business.

With harvest time approaching, winemakers in the Dahlonega area’s wine country are hoping for less water — from the skies, that is — so they can turn grapes into wine.

“If it doesn’t stop raining, we’re going to probably lose our crop,” said Raymond Castleberry, owner of Cavender Creek Vineyards with his wife, Donna.

Controlling mildew means doubling up on sprays, which Castleberry has done.

In normal rainfall, he sprays every 10-14 days.

This year, “we’re spraying every six or seven days and we’re squeezing that in between rain showers,” said Castleberry, adding that “doubling up on sprays means doubling of costs.”

Stalled-out systems have battered the Southeast with rain throughout the summer, dumping nearly 14.2 inches in July alone at Gainesville’s Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport, according to the National Weather Service. So far this month, 7.76 inches have fallen.

Rain has been more in other areas, such as 15.24 inches in Helen in July.

Castleberry said he recorded 3 inches in one overnight rainfall this week.

Of particular concern to vineyard operators is “downy mildew” that forms on grape leaves. It’s a widespread, serious disease of grapevines that manifests itself through light green to yellow spots, called “oil spots” because they may appear greasy, according to Michigan State University’s AgBioResearch.

“Infected berries turn a mottled dull-green or reddish purple and readily fall from the cluster,” according to MSU.

Brannon Boegner, head winemaker at Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery, said his business is spending about three times more than it normally does on sprays.

The aim, of course, “is to keep the vine healthy, but they can only take so much,” he said.

“We need it to get hot and dry pretty quick if we’re going to make some good wine this year,” Boegner said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge, which making wine (in this part of the country) always is.”\

He said his main issue is “getting sugars up” to the right level “and getting this fruit ripe.”

“Skins start to break down and you run the risk of clusters getting different types of rot ... the longer we let them hang,” Boegner said.

Warren Robertson, general manager of Montaluce Winery & Estates, said “we had a perfect growing season” in April and May.

“We had great quality and great quantity,” he said.

Then July weather struck.

“We’re going to have a little bit lower production this year,” Robertson said. “We’ll have to be a little bit choosy about what we’re pulling.”

Harvest usually takes place the first week of September, but this year, that could take place a couple of weeks later, he said.

Napa Valley, Calif., where Robertson’s best friend is a winemaker, is often regarded as the American standard for winemaking.

“They get an average of 1 to 2 inches of rain for June and July, and we’re getting that weekly now, unfortunately,” he said.

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