Will Bud Break Lead to Heartbreak

By Posted on Mar 25 2012 | By

 Likely Warmest March on Record Poses Threat to Virginia Wine Industry 

Spring is perhaps the scariest time of the year for vineyard managers. As life springs forth everywhere—driven by rising solar energy—a bracing northern chill can bring it to an end.

Frost. It’s a chilling thought.

Farmers of a variety of crops can be hurt by a spring freeze but growers of delicate wine grapes are particularly vulnerable. If a vine’s tender buds are frozen, they cannot recover as some plants indigenous to Virginia can.

From March 1 through the 22nd, over 6,000 daily temperature records have either been broken or tied across the Nation. And as tempting as it may be to cry “Global Warming”, experts finger the cause to an unrelated high pressure ridge from the tropics that has moved as far north as Canada. This air movement has been further amplified this past week as we saw temperatures soar into the eighties. Where’d I put that can of sunblock?

The effect of the warmth is obvious…things start to blossom and grow. Lawns are being cut and the beautiful redbuds and forsythia are arrayed in purples and yellows. In the vineyards, many vines have begun to bud.

The Old Dominion’s Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc are among the first vines to stir. In February of last year, I posted a story about one vineyard that sustained a mortal blow. The forecast for tomorrow night calls for temperatures around 32 degrees. ‘Tis scary.

Ironically, some vineyards at higher elevations may be more protected than their lowland cousins. A sloping vineyard permits cold air to run off the vines and pool outside the growing area. Conversely,vineyards that are on flat terrain or slightly depressed are particularly defenseless to frigid air settling in and freezing the tender shoots.

Actions can be taken to protect the vines ranging from using wind machines, spraying the vines with water to insulate the buds—or for deep-pocket vineyard owners—employing helicopters to force warmer upper air down on the vines. Nonetheless, many vineyards will remain unprotected if cold air comes calling.

With forecasts around the state calling for a possible freeze tomorrow evening, it’s nail biting time for many vineyard shepherds. And the last expected frost date in Virginia is May 10, some six weeks off.

So here’s a plea to all Virginia wine lovers: please keep your wine glasses crossed for the next month or so.


Categories : WINE ARTICLES