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On farms throughout Delaware, fall is a traditional harvest time. It also is a time of reckoning because the harvest yield will be a measure of the farm's success for the year.

Indeed, farms are bustling with activity this fall as corn, soybeans and other grain crops are harvested.

But it also is harvest time for grape growers, providers of the key ingredient for the state's ever-growing cottage wine industry.

And, as the state's farm-based wineries finish their harvest, most are pleased by the 2017 crop and optimistic that good wines will be the result of this year's yield.

"I am pretty happy with what we have so far," said Mike Reese, winemaker at Nassau Valley Vineyard in Lewes.

Ditto in Kent County.

"It's the best vintage yield we've ever had," said Chuck Nunan, owner of Harvest Ridge Winery in Marydel.

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Nunan estimates that his wine grape yield is 20 percent higher than a year ago.

Workers at the Nassau Valley Vineyard just finished picking cabernet sauvignon grapes, the last to be harvested.

And their yields also are up from a year ago.

"We got a good quantity at harvest, mostly because we got a lot rain" early in the growing season, said Reese.

For vintners, growing wine grapes is always a game of roulette. A late spring frost can damage the vines and the fruit buds, reducing the growth.

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Lack of rain can affect the size of the grapes — generally they are smaller with less rain, larger with more precipitation.

Smaller grapes also mean the sugar content is more concentrated, which is considered a positive trait for most quality wines.

But the heavy rains in spring and early summer in Delaware resulted in larger than usual grapes.

Which means that winemakers will have to adjust to the lower sugar content.

"I try to make the best with what I've got," said Reese.

Pete Pizzadili, co-owner of Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery in Felton, said the sugar content in his harvested grapes also is lower because of the rain and that may result in less than robust wine.

"We've seen better years," he said.

Said Nunan: "Winemaking is always a gamble."

Farm-based wineries are a relatively recent phenomenon in Delaware, although grapes have long been a common crop in the southern part of the state.

But it was not because farmers lacked interest in making wine.

It is because it was against the law.

In fact, having a winery on the farm was illegal until a Sussex County-based father and daughter team decided to head to Dover in the 1990s to change the law.

As a result of the lobbying by Nassau Valley co-owner Peg Raley, the law was changed and farm wineries were legalized in 1991.

Two years later, Peg and her dad, Bob Raley, opened their winery on farmland near Lewes, Delaware. Bob Raley died in 2013.

The Raleys had been raising grapes since 1987 but, until the law was passed, they sold their harvest to others.

Now, the Nassau Valley Vineyards features six acres of red and white grapes, producing wines using chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot varieties. In addition, they buy grapes from other growers to produce an additional 14 varieties of wine.

The winery features a retail shop and public tours are offered, particularly on weekends.

And it is the oldest farm-based winery in Delaware.

In Marydel, Chuck Nunan began as an amateur winemaker in 1995. After a visit to a winery in South Carolina, Chuck and Chris Nunan decided to grow grapes on 16 acres of their historic family farm. The vineyards are in sight of a stone property marker that identifies the location of the Mason-Dixon line.

Their Kent County winery opened to the public in 2013 and the Nunans continue to plant more grapes — an additional 4 acres went in the ground this year.

It will take three years before the new vines are at full yield.

Currently, Harvest Ridge is growing several red wine grapes, including cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec. The whites include viognier, and chardonnay.

Chuck Nunan said they picked the white grapes early because of a September hurricane threat but decided to risk leaving red grapes on the vine.

"We gambled on the whites because of the hurricane, but I think they are OK because the season was two weeks ahead" of normal, Nunan said.

But, despite the early harvest gamble, he is optimistic that the white wine varieties will be good.

"I am very happy with what I have so far," he said.

And Nunan is thrilled with his decision to risk leaving the red grapes on the vine.

"Our malbec is phenomenal," he said. "And our merlot is the pinnacle."

Once the grapes are picked and crushed, the juice is placed in barrels — commonly oak — and allowed to age.

Nunan leaves his red wines in barrels for up to a year, then he ages it for another three to six months in bottles before it is ready for sale.

He said the Harvest Ridge white wines from this season will be ready for sale next spring; reds, requiring more aging, will be sold starting in 2019.

Nunan said Delaware is ideal for grape growing, similar to the top wine regions in Europe.

He said the Delaware climate is moderate, the soil is sandy and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay reduces the likelihood of damaging frost.

Both the bay and the ocean help cool the vineyards at night.

"The climate and soil of Delaware is very similar to that of Bordeaux," France, he said.

Though geography is important, Nunan acknowledges that any type of farming carries risk.

So, even with this year's record yield, he remains a realist.

"Part of being a winemaker is, you take what God gives you," he said.

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