Hot, Dry Weather Helps Grapes Thrive

By Lauren Wanko

Under the hot sun, countless grape clusters dangle on the vines at 4JG’s Orchards and Vineyards.

“They’ve been smiling all week. While we had a couple of days, couple of weeks of rain, they like it high and dry,” said vineyard owner Janet Giunco.

While many of us have been trying to avoid the heat, 4JG’s grapes are thriving.

“Sunshine is good. You have to work with humidity because grapes can get a little mold on them so we have to be very careful with that, but they like a lot of sunshine,” Giunco said.

About 40,000 vines cover 40 acres of the Colts Neck family-operated vineyard. They grow seven different varieties here.

“When I got my license in 1997, I was the 17th Winery to get a license there are well over 50 today,” Giunco said.

Giunco says the cold, long winter resulted in a late bud break, which is why this stretch of hot, dry weather is so important.

“Bud break is the plant waking up after its dormancy in the wintertime, usually about the last week of April. Here in Monmouth County we get a little shoot of leaves and then about week later they’ll get a little tiny flower. That flower becomes the cluster,” she said.

The cluster of grapes grows throughout June and July says Giunco.

“They all look like little green marbles right now. We have not been through Veraison. Veraison actually starts our third phase of the growing season where the grape gets more plump, starts to retain its sugars and turns its natural or final color,” she explained.

The team will continue to test the grapes every day.

“Basically what we test are for three things — the brix which are the sugar count, the pH and the acid levels for each particular plant and each particular variety there’s a certain number we need to get to in those three counts when they get there we know we’re pretty close,” Giunco said.

There are 40 to 45 days of growth left for the white grapes. Giunco needs about 20 days of great weather to ensure they’re ready for the harvest, which typically begins at 4JG Winery in early September. The staff hand pick each cluster carefully so they don’t crack open. Then they start making the wine.

“It starts as soon as we pick those grapes. They start getting crushed and fermented so it happens right away,” said Craig Donofrio.

The Garden State Wine Growers Association tells NJTV News last year’s harvest period featured ideal conditions — warm and dry — and the white wines of the 2014 vintage are strong statewide. The reds, largely yet to be released, show great promise too.

“This year is heading down the same path. I think we’re gonna have another terrific year,” Giunco said.