April Frost and Freeze Damage Reports
Midwest Wine Press reported on conditions in Midwest vineyards throughout April 2012. The information below was compiled from conversations with grape growers across the Midwest between April 11th and April 26th, 2012. Updates on recent growing conditions can be found in the News section on the homepage and a related story published May 2nd, 2012: Grape Freeze Damage Extensive in Ohio, New York, Michigan
On Friday morning, April 13th, Charlie Edson with Bel Lago Winery on the Leelanau Peninsula, was optimistic that damage was minimal in his vineyard. Edson said that he had not done a full assessment, but he believed that low temperatures on his property have stayed above 25F; the level at which the buds in the stage of development at his vineyard would be damaged.
The temperature on Old Mission Peninsula was below freezing for nine hours and dropped as low as 25 F for two hours on Thursday morning. However, the temperature at the MSU Traverse City station bottomed at 28.5 F. There were also nine hours below freezing at Traverse City on Thursday morning. (Midnight to 9:00 a.m.)
Also on Friday morning, Matt Moersch, winemaker at Round Barn Winery in Baroda, Michigan (Southwest Michigan) said that his older vineyards, where vines had not leafed out, appeared to have escaped major freeze damage. However, he said that his younger vines, which had leaves, were severely damaged by repeated freezing this week. Round Barn uses a Scott Henry trellising system which normally means longer canes and more buds, which delayed bud break, Moersch said.
On Thursday afternoon, Diane Brown with Michigan State University in Benton Harbor, reported that the temperature at the Berrien Springs field station vineyard got as low as 28.6 F between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Thursday morning. “We know there is some damage in area vineyards, but it will take a couple of weeks to sort out,” she said. Brown was careful not to jump to conclusions, but she said that yields almost certainly will be lower in the major grape growing region of Southwest Michigan. Brown said that she believes that the cold air extended so high into the atmosphere last night that vineyards fans had little effect.
Ron Mark of Summerset Winery in Indianola Iowa, 20 miles south of Des Moines, said that he estimates 60% of his crop of Foch, Frontenac, Edelweiss and Concord has been lost, with most of the damage occurring early Wednesday morning. Mark has 12.5 acres of grapes and has been in business since ’97. “This is terrible,” he said, “We have 44 vineyards in this county (Warren County) and my neighbors appear to have been hit by the freeze too.” Mark said some of his vignoles was not as exposed, but the shoots on other varieties were out about six inches when 30 degree air took up residence in his vineyard overnight.
Based on visits to several vineyards and wineries in far Southern Illinois during the week of April 16th, frost damage south of Highway 13 (Carbondale) is limited to the least suitable vineyard locations. The Shawnee Hills growing areas did not appear to have been effected by frost.
However, Heimann Vineyards, just north of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, will have some reduced yields as a result of frost during the week of April 9th, according to vineyard owner Ryan Heimann. Heimann, who has eight acres of hybrid grapes, thinks about 5% of Chambourcin will be lost and Vignoles yields may down about 15%.
Heimann uses a six-foot single high wire trellis for hybrids at his commercial vineyards. At his nearby home vineyard, where he uses a three-foot trellis, Heimann said Norton and Valvin Muscat flowers were completely frozen by the recent cold.
Two Oaks Vineyards, which is on I57 about 20 miles North of I64 in Benton, Illinois, did experience some frost damage according to co-owner Barb Harp. She said some Seyval will probably be lost to frost damage. Although some Norton vines appeared to have some brown flowers, Harp said she is not concerned because the Norton in her vineyard is extremely vigorous. Overall, Harp was sanguine about the frost and cold damage in general. “One Spring, almost all our shoots died all the way back to the wire and it turned out to be one of the best years we ever had,” she said.
On April 19th, Jill Joyce with August Hill Winery said that they experienced some frost damage in their North Central Illinois vineyard. “We did have some freeze damage but when the freeze hit, there was so much growth already on the vines that the damage was limited mostly to the end of the shoots. Since most of the damage was well away from the cordons, we can cut off the damage when we prune and we should be OK”
On Friday, April 13th, Julie Harvey, General Manager of Alto Vineyards in Southern Illinois reported minimal, if any, frost damage. “Some of the leaf tips of our vinifera’s were a little brown, but we don’t think there is any fruit damage, ” she said. On the morning of April 11th, the temperature in nearby Carbondale hit a low for the week of 34 F.
On Thursday, Brad Beam in Central Illinois near Peoria, said his vineyard had incurred some damage this week. Earlier varieties like LaCrosse and St. Criox are “pretty devastated” he said. Vignoles and Seyval in his vineyard are not open yet and should be fine, Beam said. “You can also see a significant difference in the level of damage between vines planted on hillsides vs. those in the low areas. It really makes a case for the importance of both varietal and site selection,” he said.
Joe Taylor at Sleepy Creek Vineyards between Danville and Champaign Illinois said that temperatures of 28 to 29 degrees on Tuesday morning caused widespread freeze damage in his vineyard. “It’s not a happy morning,” Taylor said. “The frost got everything except the Vignoles which is not that far along. Our Foch, LaCrescent and Marquette vines have eight inch shoots which left them exposed to last night’s cold.” Taylor is concerned that his vines are so far along that the secondary buds may have shut down already.
Ironically, much farther north in Illinois, Peggy Harmston at Massbach Ridge Winery near Galena reports that her vineyard largely escaped frost damage despite 27 degree temperatures early Wednesday morning. “Our Foch is out just a couple of inches and some of the shoot tips look frozen,” she said. “Otherwise I think most of our vines are just fine,” Harmston said.
Ted Huber of Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards in southern Indiana near Louisville said that on Thursday morning the temperature dropped briefly to 31 degrees in low lying vineyard areas. ‘We basically have very minimal crop damage here “there was a little frost on the strawberries, but nothing up high into the vineyards,” he says. Huber said that he left more buds than usual this year in anticipation a cold snap following record March warmth. “Some vines might have to revert the secondary buds so we won’t know the complete condition of the crop for two weeks,” he said.
Jim Butler of Butler Winery and Vineyards in Bloomington, Indiana said Tuesday night’s frost left a mark but temperatures were a degree or so warmer on Wednesday night. ‘Everything that had shoots out was pretty much toasted,” he says. Still, final pruning hadn’t yet taken place, so he’s optimistic this year’s crop will be decent. ‘It’s hard to say, it may be a full crop. It will take two weeks (to know for sure). There are secondary buds that will push out that got frosted “at the very worst, we’ll have a 50 percent crop. That would be good. We’re following two great years of quality and quantity, so I guess we can’t complain much. We are using long cane pruning this year so the frost just did some pruning for us.”
Julie Coquard at Wollersheim Winery in Prairie Du Sac near Madison, said it’s too soon to assess the impact of 27 degree temperatures Tuesday night and subfreezing temperatures on Monday night. However, her preliminary diagnosis is guarded optimism. “It’s not good that the vines matured this early; we may have been hit hard but we won’t have a full assessment until Monday.” Coquard fears that her Foch sustained the worst damage. The Leon Millot is not as far along and therefore might have been spared, she said. To minimize frost damage, Wollersheim has been towing propane “dragon” heaters down the vineyard rows with a tractor. Dry weather is also an issue in Wisconsin. Summarizing the situation, Coquard said, “In some places, we might wind up getting one cluster whereas we normally get three.” (This report was filed on April 11th, please see the Minnesota section of this article for more information on how Wollersheim is using Kocide to control frost.)
Rudy Jungwirth with Valley Vineyards, which is near the Mississippi River almost as far north as Minneapolis, said he would be surprised if some of his primary buds survived six or seven hours of 20 degree chill Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. On a more positive note, Jungwirth believes his late pruning slowed vine progress by 7-10 days which reduced frost damage: “Largely because of the pruning, the buds on our Frontenac and Frontenac Gris are nice and tight; and the Marquette I pruned a month ago only has a half-inch growth and the leaves are not out yet.”
Jungwirth also said Spring frost is not always a bad thing. “Some of the best wine we ever had was after the Mother’s Day Frost a couple of years ago. The secondary buds only yielded seven pounds per plant, but it was some excellent wine.”
In the Door County area and the Wisconsin Ledge AVA, Steve DeBaker with Trout Springs Winery said that his vines have not been damaged by recent temperatures as low as 27 or 28. “Our buds are just starting to swell, so we’re fine so far,” he said. DeBaker said the protective combination of Lake Michigan and the elevated Niagara Escarpment should help North Eastern Wisconsin grape growers during this delicate period.
Northeast Ohio has had a protracted period of cold weather according to Gene Sigel at South River Vineyards. In mid April, he said that 7 of the past 10 nights have been below freezing. On April 3rd, Sigel said he lost some Chardonnay in a field that never has had frost injury before. However, Sigel said relatively immature vinifera vines have faired better recently than the rapidly shooting vitus labruscas. “In one of our vineyards, there’s about 20 acres of Concord that’s not going to bear a lot of fruit this year,” he said.
Sigel said his wind towers are running often this Spring. While the Orchard Rite machines help pull down warmer air, site selection is the key to frost prevention according to Sigel. “The wind machines work better where we have better elevation and air flow,” he said.
“It ‘s been a real roller coaster for the past few years, heat in ’10, rain in ’11 and now the early bud break,” Sigel lamented.
Ken Tarsitano at Tarsitano Winery and Cafe in Conneaut, Ohio on Lake Erie near the Pennslyvania border, is also using air movement as one method to control frost. Instead in bringing warmer air down with fans, Tarsitano is using cylindrical Shur ground fans to drain cold air off the vineyard.
Tarisitano is also leaving as much as three times the normal amount of buds on his mostly vinifera vineyard. Recently, he hedge trimmed his 17 acre, VSP trellised vineyard in three days using a hand held Husqvarna gas trimmer. “We couldn’t wait any more to prune, so we hedged,” he said.
Tarsitano knows that he will have to go back and do more selective pruning, probably on very short notice, during May. “If we don’t have a freeze, I am going to have way too much fruit,” he said.
Hedge pruing is not a method he uses in normal years: “You can’t hedge prune every year or the vine will lose its training system.”
Tarisitano thinks there is “some damage” in his vinyard but he thinks a combination of pruing, air movement, and a clean, packed vineyard floor will minimize the effects of this difficult Spring.
On April 26th, Michael Bullock of Richwoods Winery in Detroit Lakes Minnesota, near Fargo, North Dakota, said that he has not had freeze damage yet, but he’s concerned about forecasts for cold temps this weekend. Bullock grows grapes at 47 degrees North latitude which indicates the toughness of not only the grower by also the University of Minnesota varietals.
This email from John Marshall at Great River Vineyard on the Mississippi River between La Crosse, WI and St. Paul, MN was written at 6:00 a.m. on April 18th and is reprinted with his permission:
“It is down to 28 F again this morning. I continue to sweat blood. It usually gets the coldest right before or just after sunrise so not out of the woods yet. After this morning it is supposed to warm up again for some days but it is barely mid-April. We still have a lot to look forward to. If we get another freeze warning next week or whenever, I am going to get out and put on another application of KDL. I have been using 1 Gal./acre KDL, plus 1 Qt. Calcium foliar, the day before the event. Larry Shafer says that strawberry growers in Michigan use this mix and have seen good results when applied even just a few hours before the freeze.
Soon we will be seeing leaves emerge on the growing shoots. An apple grower I spoke to recently told me he has used Kocide (a common copper fungicide) to save blossoms in past and even saw, when he sprayed the last of his tank on some sweet corn, that both were saved from frost damage. I understand Phillippe Coquard at Wollershiem’s Winery has used Kocide as well on his grapes. He says “with success” but emphasizes that it is necessary to have leaves for Kocide to work. Good luck everyone. As Red Green says, “I’m rootin’ for ya’.”