WILKES COUNTY, N.C. – As Jay Raffaldini looks over Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery, he speaks highly about the region and this year’s harvest.
“This area is natural for grape growing and in five years we will double the amount of vineyards. I am 100% sure of that,” said Raffaldini, a wine maker. “You will see vines as far as you can see. This area is ground zero for grapes right now.”
But Hurricane Irma could wash away Raffaldini’s good feelings.
“I have four weather apps on my phone,” Raffaldini said. “My wife says it’s still going to rain. It doesn’t matter how many apps you have on your phone.”
Raffaldini is keeping an eye on the weather because he fears heavy rain from the remnants of Irma could ruin a good harvest.
“We get up to 4, 5, 6, 7 inches of rain, it’s problematic,” said Raffaldini. “The grapes take up so much water and then they split.”
So at the Wilkes County winery, the fun experience of harvesting grapes is taking on a more serious tone.
About 20 patrons who paid to participate in the harvest were joined by regular staff members. Davina Van Buren is from High Point and is lending a hand during the harvest.
“It’s a beautiful day,” said Van Buren. “We are happy it didn’t rain with the hurricane coming. We are hurrying trying to get the grapes off the vine. Salvage what we can.”
The team went through the vineyard collecting grapes that normally would still be on the vine.
Raffaldini feels the team did a great job. But it looks like 15 acres of grapes will have to hang in there and stand up to whatever Irma brings to the western Piedmont.
Joe Cardali is a “guest picker” from Long Island, New York. He believes the grapes in the field will survive Irma.
“You can see a lot of vines that have grapes that are not ripe,” said Cardali. “They will have to tough it out. It could be the hurricane vintage!”
Wine is big business in North Carolina. The state ranks 10th in U.S. wine production.
Studies suggest the grape and wine industry generates nearly $2 billion and provides more than 10,000 full and part time North Carolina jobs.