This winter’s extreme cold weather has raised concern about the health of grape vines in the upcoming harvest season, but local groups are taking measures to minimize the impact.
Currently, grape vines are in their dormant stage, meaning there are no blossoms, but the plant is still at risk to be damaged.
Dave Wiemann, vineyard manager of Sheldrake Point Winery in Ovid NY, said the coldest recorded temperature at their weather station was -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
“With this weather, the type of injury we suffer from with the vines is bud mortality,” Wiemann said. “Buds are the little itty-bitty things where the growth starts. And in that bud is the potential for having a crop, so if those buds freeze and die, the amount of crop we can have for the following year is reduced.”
Wiemann said this winter, Sheldrake Point has suffered about 20% bud mortality. He said other vineyards that reached colder temperatures will probably have a higher bud mortality, which results in less usable crops. These vineyards may have to outsource to get grapes for their wine production.
Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture specialist and team leader for the Finger Lakes Grape Program, said this is the coldest winter vineyards have seen in this area in ten years.
The Finger Lakes Grape Program is a group that supplies participating vineyards all throughout the Finger Lakes with information about how to keep a healthy crop and maximize grape harvests. The program, a part of Cornell Cooperative extension, holds information sessions and distributes material from research that is being done at Cornell and elsewhere about grape farming.
Walter-Peterson said some varieties of grapes are less able to survive in this climate’s freezing temperatures than others, which makes them more susceptible to bud mortality.
“For example, something like concord, which is a grape that is based on a species from the northeast is much better adapted to these conditions than something like chardonnay, which is from a species that originated in the Middle East,” Walter-Peterson said.
In addition to bud mortality, Walter-Peterson said freezing of the woody part of the vine itself can also be damaging to harvests.
Ways to minimize impact
“The best thing to do every year is to make sure the vines are healthy going in and make sure they have plenty of the nutrients that make them winter hardy,” Wiemann said.
One technique used to minimize impact to vines during the winter is ‘hilling up,’ which means arranging soil around the base of each vine so that it covers the graft. This helps ensure that even if the trunk of the vine freezes and dies, there is a chance enough wood will be insulated enough to be healthy and grow the following growing season.
Walter-Peterson also said having too big of a crop on the vines will weaken them and make them less likely to survive winter. Finger Lakes Grape Program makes sure to educate growers in order to minimize a decrease in harvest.
PUsh for Winter wine tourism
While vineyards are preparing for a possible decline in harvest, Finger Lakes Wine Country, a company that aims to attract people to visit the area, has been pushing to increase winter wine tours in the past five years.
Christina Roberts, director of media relation and marketing of Finger Lakes Wine Country, said there is not any data yet to reflect this winter’s impact on tourism for wineries this winter, but they are working on collecting some.
Despite this extreme cold, Roberts said winter is a great time for people to visit wineries in the area and Finger Lakes Wine Country has been trying to change people’s perceptions that wine tours are only for the warmer months.
“We find the winter is really a wonderful time to visit,” Roberts said. “Accommodations typically are able to offer lower rates and it is more affordable to visit …. It’s also a great time to come because you don’t have to ‘fight the crowds’ and you get that individualized attention.”