Midwest Vineyards Surprised by Historic Snow and Cold
Unusual wintry conditions, including the first May snowfalls in more than a century, have surprised many Midwest vineyards. To find out how these unusual conditions are impacting on vines, Midwest Wine Press consulted with wineries across the central Midwest.
MWP suggested to Bob Wersen, owner of Tassel Ridge Winery in Leighton, southern Iowa, that the current weather is pretty strange.
‘It’s not strange if you’re at the North Pole!” he joked in response. On Friday Wersen’s vineyard was totally snow-covered after an estimated 4 to 5 inches of falls. However, at that time temperatures hadn’t dropped to freezing so he wasn’t expecting any injury to his vines.
‘It’s not strange if you’re at the North Pole!”
Bob Wersen, owner of Tassel Ridge Winery, Iowa, commenting on the current weather
‘Of course you never know that in a definite sense until you actually harvest grapes, but at this point I don’t think it’s taken any damage,” he added.
None of the vines on his 67 acre vineyard have budded yet although the sap is flowing. Tassel Ridge grows 9 different cold climate varieties, including Brianna, La Crescent, Marquette and Sabrevois and also Marechal Foch and Steuben.
Wersen knows of vineyards that burn haystacks to keep temperatures above freezing, or even hire helicopters to hover above the vines, but their approach is different:
‘Our philosophy is that the varieties have got to be appropriate for our area and they’ve got to be able to take care of themselves so we don’t use any mechanical means for controlling frost.”
He said the parts of the Midwest where measures are taken to protect vines from low temperatures tend to be where vineyards are on the edge of a climate zone. That said, Wersen recalled last year when Tassel Ridge lost all of their vines’ primary buds during April’s hard freeze.
See related story: Grape Freeze Damage Extensive in Ohio, New York, Michigan
‘This year we’re in much better shape here in southern Iowa. What I’m seeing is that the buds haven’t really started to form and the temperature really never dropped below 32 degrees, ” he added.
At Breezy Hills Vineyard near Omaha, Darrell Morse said they also got snow – several inches overnight Thursday – but no frost damage. Morse, the co-owner with wife Roberta, said they haven’t had bud break but the buds are swelling and the vines are weeping.
More than 300 miles east, at Wide River Winery in Clinton, Assistant Winemaker, Kyle Frahm said they didn’t have any snow, just lots of rain and cooler temperatures, about 38 degrees.
‘The temperature round here hasn’t got down low enough where it’s really affected the vines too much,” he said. Wide River Winery has 7 acres including Edelweiss and St Croix.
In northwest Missouri, at Bushwhacker Bend Winery in Glasgow, they did get at least 2 inches of snow but it hasn’t fallen below freezing. ‘It’s all wet, heavy stuff and it melted pretty quickly,” said Susan Marksbury who owns Bushwacker Bend with husband Gene.
‘It’s all wet, heavy stuff and it melted pretty quickly”
Susan Marksbury, owner, Bushwhacker Bend Winery, Missouri
She said on their single acre of vines – which includes Norton, Chardonel and Chambourcin – only the Norton have budded and they’re coming along very well.
In central Missouri at Les Bourgeois Vineyards, Winemaker Jacob Holman has been monitoring the temperature. ‘It’s 38 here right now and 34 when I woke up so we haven’t had a freeze thankfully.” He said most of their vines have budded and they’re crossing their fingers hoping temperatures don’t drop to below freezing.
Typically their vines bud around the middle of April, said Holman, when it is still possible to get a freeze, so they usually take preventative measures to guard against this cold snap. ‘You prune vines to a certain bud count, and what we’ve done is left more on than we’d normally leave and then if you do have a freeze then at least you have some material there, because most of the time the freeze doesn’t wipe out all the buds, just where the frost has hit it.”
This year they took the same precautions, but with the later bud break and then temperatures hitting 85 degrees earlier in the week, they thought winter was over – so they decided it was time to prune off their extra buds.
‘We were thinking we’ll be sitting pretty this year but then of course it’s 38 degrees!” He said with a laugh. ‘It’s wacky!” he added.