2020: A Frosty Challenge

 2020: A Frosty Challenge

The year 2020 has been challenging over these past months for everyone, including wineries all across the state of Virginia, as they have had to shutter their doors and rely on online and phone orders for curbside pickup, delivery or shipping.

As if the challenges existing issues facing the local wine industry weren’t enough, a number of wineries in Virginia were dealt another blow in the past couple of weeks, as frost warnings were issued a number of mornings, and despite their valiant efforts, some parts of crops were lost for the year. For more information, here are a few reports from the local press (NBC 29 and WHSV), and also in the national press, as reported in Wine Business.

When grape vines bud, each bud will become not only leaves, but tendrils of the vines reach up and out allowing the vine to spread, but also, the tiny structures that will become flowers that will self-pollinate and become the clusters of grapes. If the delicate bud gets frozen, that year’s growth may be burned off and gone for the year. From reports, there were losses in Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc in particular. Grapes that bud early but aren’t particularly cold hardy. Hybrid grapes like Vidal Blanc, which were created to provide cold hardiness, fared quite well. The damage across the state depends on many factors, including vineyard site location, slope, altitude, temperature, and dew point.

Sleep was lost on several nights as vineyard crews did their best, trying to minimize the frost damage, using all the tools in their respective toolboxes. For some, large fans were used. You can often see them towering over the vineyard,  similar in stature to wind energy turbines, but with straighter arms. They draw warmer air from above and push it down towards ground level. Sometimes, at great cost, helicopters are flown over vineyards to push the warm air down to the ground. Fans may be used, pumping air out the sides at near ground level, to drive warmth from the burning of propane gas through the rows of the vineyard that are most vulnerable to frost. 

Piles of vine cuttings, bales of hay or paraffin candles may be lit on fire throughout the vineyard, adding warmth where it is need. Another method used in some parts of the world is aspersion, where the vines are wetted to cause a layer of ice to form around them. The ice layer will remain at freezing temperature and insulate and protect the vine from sub-freezing temperature. Some vineyards leave “insurance” or “safety” canes—extra lengths of vine— on during pruning, hoping they will help in these circumstances, and provide more buds for future growth, should the main canes have buds that freeze.

How do we, as Virginia wine consumers, support the industry with this additional challenge this year? Buy Virginia wine. It is as simple as that. Whether you buy Virginia directly from the winery, or from your favorite local wine store, you are supporting local wine! 


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