Freeze Damage Reports
An overnight frost has had contrasting impacts on grapes across Michigan. In some areas, where wine grapes predominate, the low temperatures overnight Sunday had little effect. In other areas, where juice grapes are grown, the freeze has virtually wiped out entire crops. This is sadly reminiscent of 2012, when an April frost devastated much of Michigan’s labrusca grape production.
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Grape growers in Paw Paw, Van Buren County, have watched their Concord and Niagara grapes die today as temperatures dropped to 24 degrees during their first frost of the season, according to growers.
Joe Muvrin from Muvrin Farms in Paw Paw grows 140 acres of Concord. He says until Sunday night ‘It was shaping up to be a great year” but last night’s frost, ‘pretty much wiped everything out.” After a promising morning, when it looked like his crop had avoided major damage, he spent today watching leaves on his grapevines darken, curl-up and then die. He expects that more than 80% of his grape crop was wiped out, although his cherry trees got off almost unscathed. He’s still hopeful that with secondary buds he might be able to harvest 3 to 4 tons where he usually harvests up to 8 tons, ‘But it could be as bad as 1 or 2.”
Will Pugsley, a retired viticulturist from one of the oldest families of grape growers in the state, estimates that one thousand acres of grapes in the Paw Paw area have suffered severe or some damage. Pugsley said first buds were out 3 to 4 inches, but after the freeze, ‘Any green tissue showing yesterday is dead today,” he said.
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However, just a few miles from Paw Paw, in the area of Lawton, early indications from some growers suggest only 25% damage from the frost. In other parts of the state, even in the north, where Pugsley said temperatures dropped to as low as 28 degrees, wine varieties have suffered ‘very little, if any damage,” he said, thanks to protection afforded by higher elevations and the water of Lake Michigan.
Some growers to the south escaped virtually unscathed as well. About 50 miles south of Paw Paw and a few miles from Lake Michigan, Hollywood Hills Vineyard in Berrien Springs suffered a light frost. Viticulturist Mike Nitz says his 35 acres of grapes – that include Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Traminette and AlbariÃ±o — are planted on a higher elevation than local juice grapes to avoid the winter cold. These grapes experienced ‘only very, very minor damage close to the ground,” to parts of the vine that would have been removed during pruning anyway.
About 100 miles to the north of Paw Paw, in the center of the state, Renae Goralski, co-owner of Oceana Winery, located about 3 miles from Lake Michigan, also reported only minor frost damage to their 10 acres of vines. Oceana grows about 13 different varieties including Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Vignole, Seyval Blanc and Cayuga White.
‘It wasn’t really harsh but certainly for certain varieties primary buds were damaged,” she said. Goralski estimates that about half of their Gewurtztraminer – their most advanced variety with swollen buds and leaves starting to unfurl – received some damage. Cabernet Franc also sustained minor frost injuries.
In Northern Illinois, Bill Shoemaker, the Northern Illinois viticulturist for the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, said, “We largely avoided freeze/frost in Northern Illinois. Folks in lower sites may have been affected, but if site selection was good, freeze was avoided.”
In Wisconsin, there were reports of frost and freeze damage. In the central part of the state, Martin Edwin Sell of Edwin Brix Vineyard in Juneau, said temperatures Monday night dropped to 29F. (In true Midwestern spring fashion, Wisconsin temperatures the following afternoon were in the low 80s.)
Bud break on his Frontenac occurred around May 7th. Sell reported some Frontenac leaf damage but he does not believe primary buds were affected. The buds on his Marquette vines have not broken yet and he reported no Marquette damage. Sell reported that he is the process of planting an acre of Brianna and Chardonnel which makes Brix Vineyard one of the first Chardonnel growers in Wisconsin.
Northwest of Madison, along the bluffs of the Wisconsin River, Marion Weglarz of Weggy Winery in Muscoda reports no frost damage. Temperatures in his vineyard bottomed out at 38F Monday night. Bud break is just starting Weglarz reports. Last year, bud break occurred in mid-March and subsequent freezes badly damaged area vineyards.
Matt Skaletski of Holy Grail Vineyards in Green Bay said there has not been bud break at this vineyard although Marquette is starting to swell.
Gregory Teff has a vineyard 1.5 miles east of Stoddard WI. On Monday, May 13th, the temperature at 6 a.m. was 28F at Teff’s home, but his vineyard is about 75 to 100 feet higher up a hill where the temperature dropped to 30 degrees. The buds on Teff’s vines were in various stages (bud swell, full bud swell, & bud burst),
Farther south in Wisconsin, LaVerne Vetrano at Vertro Winery in Jefferson, Wisconsin inspected her vineyard Wednesday and reported no damage to the Delaware, Niagara and Concord vines. Vetro is located about 50 miles west of Milwaukee.
In Minnesota, John Marshall with Great River Vineyards reports buds are swelling and a few are breaking as of Thursday morning. By Friday, he expects bud break on many varieties. “While the buds are just swelling it takes more cold and a longer duration to do any harm. Few of us had buds actually breaking open or extending last weekend when the cold actually took place,” Marshall said.
Marshall said that it is important to remember that fruit clusters formed last season within the new buds. If the frost was bad enough, the new shoots may turn dark and begin to droop in a few days. However, Marshall doubts many growers had buds in that condition and few had cold serious enough to freeze the clusters. However, if shoots show “a little burning from the frost,” it is possible that the clusters within may be partially damaged. “Some of the berries, soon to open, may be damaged and this will show later this season with misshapen clusters and missing berries,” Marshall said.
“Nevertheless it appears that most of us escaped serious damage and we are all still in the game,” he concluded.