Vineyards in the Finger Lakes said they are facing the worst winter in a decade, the Democrat and Chronicle reported today, because of the particularly cold weather.
Agriculture scientists at Cornell University have been detecting bud damage in both test and commercial vineyards, suggesting half the buds in some places have been frozen, the paper reported.
Though the grapevines at this time of year look like not much more than a trunk with a couple of bare, dormant branches, a closer look reveals the buds from which new branches and fruit will emerge during the growing season.
“Buds contain most of next year’s plant,” said Matt Cassavaugh, head winemaker at Casa Larga.
He’s not too worried about buds freezing because he said the lowest temperature reached at Casa Larga so far was 8 degrees below zero, which is about 6 degrees higher than the point at which half the buds are frozen. Plus, Cassavaugh said, there’s something that can be done about that. If buds are freezing at the rate of 50 percent, farmers compensate by leaving 50 percent more buds on the branches when they do their early spring pruning.
The funny thing about weather and the Finger Lakes, though, is that the terrain creates multiple microclimates. And while Casa Larga’s vineyards in Perinton might sustain little damage, others are certain to be harder hit.
“On January 22 we hit -10F at our research farm on the east side of Cayuga Lake,” wrote Justine Vanden Heuvel, associate professor of viticulture at Cornell University, in an email. “So we’re anticipating considerable damage in our Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and Lemberger.”
“In Geneva, there’s some pretty significant injury,” said Timothy Martinson, senior state viticulture extension associate at Cornell. “It gets much reduced the farther down the lakes you go.”
This is the worst winter for grapes since 2004, Martinson said, when 25 percent of the Finger Lakes’ vinifera vines sustained damage. That translated to an even higher percentage of the crop lost, he said.