Cold Weather in the Vineyard (and Winery!)
For the past couple of weeks it's been the same thing most mornings when I leave for work: Below zero temperatures. I live in Vermont, so those conditions are no big surprise. If it weren't for the weather, I'm not sure what else we would have to talk about in rural New England.
Each morning I drive past a house in the neighborhood that boasts a little backyard vineyard — I'd estimate they have about 30 or 40 fairly mature vines. While I know there are a lot of cold hard grapevine varieties (which they must be growing), I still wonder on these chilly days — how cold is too cold for those vines? And how long can they stand it?
(Backyard vineyard in East Arlington, Vermont.)
Remember last winter — the year of the "Polar Vortex"? Silly weather names aside, last winter brought some very cold conditions to places that don't normally get those kinds of temperatures. My friends in North Carolina and points south were up in arms about all the freezing temperatures and sloppy weather, and their grapevines weren't too happy about it either. I talked to a lot of folks in the grape growing seminars I attended at the 2014 WineMaker Magazine Conference (in Virginia) who experienced major grapevine damage from the cold — many of them from the Southeast.
We've run a lot of stories about growing grapes in cold climates, but not much about what to do when your vines are just too cold regardless of where they are grown. So I called upon WineMaker's resident cold weather grape expert, Ed Kwiek. Ed is a frequent contributor to WM and owns Woods Wine LLC., a backyard vine and home winery consulting company located near New York State's Finger Lakes.
Ed wrote us a story about the damage that cold weather can do to grapevines, and what you can do about it (if anything). One of the most important factors in keeping the vines alive during the cold times is making sure that your vines are as healthy as possible going into the winter season. If your vines experience damage, however, Ed discusses your options this spring once you assess the extent of any damage. This could be anything from partial damage to the trunk, cordon or cane, which you might be able to address with pruning in the spring, to replanting the vine (worst case scenario). Check out Ed's story here.
(Winter in the Woods Wine vineyard, Upstate New York.)
Elsewhere in the February-March 2015 issue of WM, Tim Vandergrift discusses a topic you can tackle in the winery during these slow months: Aroma faults in kit wines. In his third installment on troubleshooting kit wines, Tim talks about what to do if you wine smells like matches (sulfur), chemicals/plastic, Sherry or nuts, rotten eggs, yeast, or vinegar. Some tips are pretty kit-specific, but the column is worth a read for any home winemaker trying to diagnose off aromas in a batch of wine. There is also some bonus material online that didn't make it into the print version of the story, including some good stuff about nail polish odors, geranium smells, and "wet mouse" mmmm mmm! Check his story out here.
Ps, backyard grape growers: The groundhog said there will be six more weeks of winter, which might be an eternity for some, but not nearly enough time to plan your spring vineyard activities. Check out WineMaker's online Backyard Vine Directory for some help finding suppliers.