St. James, Stone Hill and Les Bourgeois Estimate 10% to 60% Bud Loss
Missouri’s three biggest wineries estimate winter bud loss for their grapevines at between 10% and 60%. With bud break poised to begin across the Midwest, the extent of winter damage is becoming clearer. There are also concerns that many vineyards in the region may have underestimated the impact of the record cold.
See related story: Lower Midwest: Winter Impact on Vines and Budding Progress
Stone Hill Winery in Hermann is the state’s most awarded and its second biggest producer at about 260,000 gallons per year. Nick Pehle, the vineyard manager, said his winery and all the other vineyards in the area suffered heavy winter damage. ‘We had primary bud kill from winter temperatures anywhere from 12% all the way up to 60%,” he said.
The worst effected varieties are Vivant, Vidal and Chambourcin. Normal winter bud attrition at Stone Hill is about 7%, said Pehle.
At Les Bourgeois Vineyards, in Rocheport, Missouri’s third largest wine producer, Vignoles and Traminette vines range from 20% to 30% bud kill. ‘Our worst is Chardonel with anywhere from 45% to 55%,” said winemaker, Jake Holman.
‘You expect, in Missouri, about 10% bud mortality, that’s normal. 45% is certainly not normal,” he added.
Both wineries have prepared for this bud loss by leaving more buds on their vines. ‘Basically you leave your primary count higher than normal,” explained Holman. ‘So if normally on Chardonel we’re pruning to a 2 or 3 bud spur we’ve left 6. Three of those primaries are likely going to pop buds.”
However, both Holman and Pehle are concerned that bud kill can be difficult to identify and some vineyards may have underestimated their winter bud damage.
‘I’m worried that they wouldn’t have taken those precautions and left the extra buds. If they prune down to the normal bud count then there’s a possibility that they’d have half the crop,” said Holman.
‘I think a lot of vineyards do not know how to determine winter kill and are being optimistic about the kill. I guess we will see at harvest,” said Pehle.
Until bud break, when surviving grape clusters can be counted, the impact of primary bud deaths on harvests is difficult to predict. Holman said it is likely that this year will produce lower than average crops.
At St. James Winery, Missouri’s biggest, producing more than half-a-million gallons of wine per year, the situation isn’t as bad. Executive Winemaker, Andrew Meggitt said their Chardonel and Corot Noir vines are the worst hit at 10-15% primary bud loss. He said St. James planned for these losses.
Meggit is also less concerned than his Stone Hill and Les Bourgeois colleagues about the winter kill situation at vineyards across the region. ‘I am optimistic, but I think since the spring freeze of 2007 people have left pruning later and have left more buds on the vines so the impact is lessened to an extent.”
However, the St James winemaker is worried about spring. ‘I think the cool nasty, wet spring and very slow flowering could pose problems for the unprepared.”