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Good season for grapes, hazelnuts in Douglas County

ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) The harvest of hazelnuts and wine grapes has overflowed plenty of bins in the last month or so for central Douglas County growers.


The sweeping up of nuts and grape picking started and finished earlier this year than in past years because of the hot, dry weather. These are two crops that have gradually grown in acreage in Douglas County over the past couple of decades.


Steve Renquist, a horticulture specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service in Roseburg, said there are approximately 1,500 acres of vineyards and 220 acres of hazelnut orchards.


"The grape yields seem to be like last year real heavy, real nice," Renquist said. "I think it was slightly larger than what people thought it was going to be. We've had such wonderful heat and sunshine, those elements allow for an excellent crop and quality."


Renquist also described the hazelnut harvest as "real nice." He said there was a heavy set on trees, and after a December freeze, the weather was mild, allowing for plenty of nuts to develop through the year.


With both the grapes and nuts, Renquist said the quantity of the two products and the stress created by hot weather may have impacted the size of the commodities, but only slightly. That's an important factor for the nut growers because they make a premium price on larger sized hazelnuts.


Earl Jones, owner of Abacela Winery near Winston, said his wine grape crop was one of the best for his vineyard.


"Not every year do we have quality and quantity, but this year we bingoed on both those," he said. "It's such a fabulous year for grape growing and wine making. It just doesn't get any better than it is this year."


He said the growing season started earlier than normal with the bud break process occurring in March, three weeks ahead of what has been normal.


"That gave us a nice long growing season," Jones said. "It's been rain with very little rain. There's been no disease to speak of. It's been a fabulous growing year."


Terry Brandborg at Brandborg Vineyard and Winery in Elkton said that the harvest of grapes in that area was pretty much complete, adding that harvest was two to four weeks earlier than past years.


"It's the first time we've picked with sunshine left in the year," he said.


He explained the sunshine ripened more grapes at once so there was a three-week push to pick those compared to six-week ripening periods in past years.


"I'm really loving the quality," Brandborg said. "The quality and flavors seem really excellent across the board. Some years are better than others and this year looks excellent. I think everybody is going to make great wines in 2014.


"This is a delightful time of year," he added. "Everybody is exhausted, but happy with the outlook."


The county's hazelnut growers are also happy with their harvests. Norm Lehne at Norm Lehne Garden and Orchards in the Garden Valley area said the crop from his 17 acres of trees was a little bigger than normal. He said the overall size of the nuts was "just a hair smaller than last year."


Bill Miller, who has a 38-acre nut orchard near Umpqua, said he had a "high quantity harvest."


Both Lehne and Miller are pleased with the hazelnut prices. They sell their crops to Northwest Hazelnut in Hubbard.


"The market has been strong for the last four years and it is stronger this year," Miller said. "The demand is up and the price is up."


Oregon's hazelnut growers produce about 5 percent of the world's crop. They'll benefit this year from the freeze that hit Turkey in March. Turkey is the world's leading hazelnut producer with about 70 percent of the market. It is estimated that country lost almost half its crop. Global prices have risen 60 percent since March to a 10-year high.


Lehne said he and his son Glen Lehne have 15 acres of 1- to 2-year-old hazelnut trees that will soon be producing and they anticipate planting another 30 acres of trees in the next couple of years.


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Information from: The News-Review, http://www.nrtoday.com



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