Severe Weather Forces Some Vineyards to Look Across State Lines

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LINCOLN, Neb.-- The last several months have been difficult for several grape growers and vineyards across the state, after frosts and severe weather damaged acres of crops.

Some wineries are now weighing their options, even considering bringing in grapes and juice from surrounding states to boost their yields this season.

Back in May, James Arthur Vineyards projected hail and a late frost damaged anywhere from 30-to-40 percent of their crop. In the last two months, they believe more severe weather cranked that number up to 50-to-60 percent.

"We had a harsh winter," Jim Ballard, the vineyard's owner, said.

"Then we had tornadoes, we had hail storms, we had freezes. So, we kind of had this the perfect storm of everything that really caused more damage in 20 years that we've been growing grapes. I've never seen anything quite like this."

Ballard, however, said he's got some help. They brought in a 30 percent bumper crop the previous year, and contract with 20 other growers in the state, which he said is a nice insurance policy in case weather strikes.

He also said, however, that about six of those growers will not have a crop at all this year due to the weather.

According to Ballard, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission requires 75 percent of the grapes and juices he uses to come from Nebraska. Only 25 percent can come from out of state.

If he or other wineries need more, they can petition to exceed that 25 percent limit. The commission said applicants must show and demonstrate prior year production and plant yields, pictures of vine damage and submit an executive summary of the request.

The executive director then holds a meeting with the licensee to go over production record summaries and all evidence of crop loss.

"It's a nice option for wineries who maybe suffer from some winter damage," Ballard said, "some late frost."

The commission said the Schillingbridge Winery, in Pawnee City, applied for the waiver and received approval. Soaring Wings, in Springfield, has applied and is pending approval.

They also said Glacial Till Vineyard and Cellar 426, in Ashland, will be applying as well.

Ballard doesn't expect his vineyard will need to petition for more grapes or juices, yet.

"We're sitting pretty good with inventory," Ballard said.

"But, there's a lot of small wineries out there that don't have that option, don't have a number of growers like we have, don't have crop insurance, which is something we're working on. But, it's just not real feasible for a lot of small guys out there."

Ballard said their harvests are beginning in August, so they'll know by then if they need to apply for a petition.

The commission also expects a "litany" of more applications for waivers.