LEXINGTON — Producers of any kind of crop already know the weather this year has made it difficult to grow anything to past standards and Mac’s Creek Winery and Brewery has been dealing with the same issues.
Seth McFarland, Mac’s Creek winemaker and vineyard manager, said the grape harvest is down one third from where they have been pervious years due to the harsh spring and summer weather conditions which have affected the entire area.
“There is a definite difference,” Seth said about this year’s harvest compared to the past, “It was a weird spring and it rained and rained and rained.”
The constant high humidity has not been good for the grape clusters, said Seth, conditions like this promotes rot and disease, which they have been working to mitigate.
The grapes having to hang in foggy, humid environments were not beneficial and Mac’s Creek is hoping for more days with temperatures in the 80s as the harvest continues.
In addition to this, the high winds which impacted Cozad on Aug. 11 also impacted Mac’s Creek, 22 rows of vines were blown down by winds which were clocked at 80 mph.
“That was not a real pleasant week,” said Seth.
The harvest itself is behind schedule thanks to the weather, Seth said. Harvest in the vineyard usually starts around Aug. 8, this year it couldn’t be started until Aug. 28.
“The grapes are ready to come down,” Seth said, “It makes the season long.” He added they have needed to stay on the vine longer due to the conditions, but harvest is finally in full swing.
Max McFarland, an owner of Mac’s Creek said there were concerns as early as spring. “We had an abundance of rain at inopportune times.”
Wind, rain and hail have all taken their toll on production, Max said. A group of 70 vines at a vineyard near Darr were all killed after the area was inundated with standing water.
Mac’s Creek’s grapes grow best in a semi-arid environment, the climate epitomized by south central Nebraska. Yet, Max said this summer has been anything but normal. “Humidity like I have never seen,” he said.
A result of this is how Mac’s Creek is picking their grapes this year. In the past one group of grapes would be picked, processed and stored, and then the next type of grape would be ready to be picked, process, stored, etc. This year’s weather has made haywire of the normal process, Max said, this year the picking is all out of the usual order.
The weather hasn’t devastated one type of grape in particular, but rather the toll has come in bits and pieces, a ton down here, another ton down there. It has added up to a loss of around 20 tons of grapes, Seth said. So far they have harvested around 45 tons, when their average is 65.
Despite this Max said they have had, “beautiful yields,” in specific areas, while others were not as favorable.
When asked how the brewery has fitted into this wine harvest, Theresa McFarland said “No rest for the weary,” as she sat with her husband Max waiting for the next grape load to process on Tuesday morning.
Max commented further on this saying that in the past they would get a break between grape harvests, now these breaks are filled by brewing beer.
When asked about the brewery operation mixing in with the grape harvest, Seth just laughed and said, “Wine is more expensive for a reason.”
Yet Seth said he appreciates the nuances between being a brewer and winemaker, where the barley and hops come in pre-ready bags, Mac’s Creek undertakes a laborious process to ensure their grapes, and by extension their wine, is a quality product.
The brewery has brought in a new crowd of people to Mac’s Creek who might not have been interested in wine, but now these same people who visit are getting to see the wine production process and are impressed by it, Seth said.
Despite trouble with lower yields, harvest is in full swing at Mac’s Creek, which should be wrapped up by the end of the month. On Tuesday, Seth, Max and Theresa were working to weigh a batch of grapes and then load them into an auger destemmer to separate the grapes from the stems.
Seth operated the skid steer to pick up the containers in which the handpicked grapes were held, the batch was weighed for bookkeeping and tax purposes and then the grapes were dumped into the destemmer. Theresa worked to break up the clusters so they could flow evenly up the auger. Max cleared out the containers and cleaned them, readying them for the next batch.
Even after harvest is completed the work is still not finished, Max said. After the first frost the McFarlands will put out fertilizer for the roots which reach 30 feet or deeper into the ground.
Seth expressed his concern about winter kill of the roots after the harsh spring and summer, but said all they can do is, “cross our fingers, go to Mass and see what we have in April.”
Max expects the harvest to come up short on their demands and if so, they can apply for a waiver from the Liquor commission to bring in grape juice from sources outside to make up the difference.
Nebraska state law dictates 75 percent of grapes used in wine production must come from inside the state, but after the harsh weather conditions, meeting that requirement is looking dubious.
Seth said the liquor commission has been good to work with and they don’t expect any trouble in applying for a waiver to acquire all the juice they need to meet the demand.
Mac’s Creek isn’t slowing down on the entertainment side either. Their Mactoberfest on Oct. 12 from 2-9 p.m. combines the best of Ireland and German tradition. The event will feature live music, barbeque, lawn games, including a cornhole tournament, a special release of mactoberfest craft beer, hard ciders, wine and a chance to view the movie, “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” outside and under the stars.
Tickets are $10, the price includes a mactoberfest beer much and one drink ticket. Youth get in for free but must be under adult supervision. Seating is limited and attendants are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.