When people ask during harvest, “Well, how do the grapes look? How did the year shape up?” Often they aren’t thinking about a critical point in the growing year, spring! A time when the stage is set for yield and health of the crop. And nothing can throw a growing year more than a hearty frost.
This year the foothills woke to a few mornings of frost in mid-April. Something that sent the grape growing world into something of a tizzy. Phone calls, emails, were flying back and forth as those nights approached. Some growers have methods to protect the vines, some don’t or choose not to, but all were on guard and watching thermometers closely through the night.
The coldest morning was in the upper 20s and had the potential to severely impact the crop, if not entirely wipe it out. One way to protect the vines is to apply water. It may sound counter-intuitive but a layer of ice can save them! My husband has been through many frosts in his 20 years as winemaker at Boeger Winery. He refers back to high school chemistry class when he explains the process. If you remember, as long as there is a mix of water and ice, the temperature of that mixture will remain at 32 degrees. If the vines stay at freezing and not drop below, they are safe!
And it turns out you can’t win them all. One vineyard was not frost protected and it suffered a bit of damage on a few rows. The frost-bitten leaf will tend look like it is burned. But after Justin and my father-in-law assessed the damage it looks like most of the crop will be fine.
My daughter and I checked on some unprotected vines for ourselves after a week of warm days following the frost. Lots of new growth and that’s good. So even with the curve ball by mother nature, it still looks like we could have a great vintage. But of course, there’s a lot of the growing year ahead, each month with its own vulnerabilities to weather and only she knows what she has planned!