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Dave Potter
May 6, 2008 | Dave Potter

Frost! (Maybe not lots of grapes in 2008)

Most of California has been nailed by frost in the last couple of weeks. It is pretty safe to say that April was a brutal month for Cali winemakers where the frosts zapped the tender, green little shoots of spring, leaving crispy tips, leaves, and fruit in its wake. The damage is still being assessed - it could be June before growers know the full extent of the damage - but most expect a smaller than average year (and last year was very light on crop too!) The cold snap's immediate effect can be seen in some patches of vineyards, where leaves that normally would be fluttering pale green in spring breezes are curled up and burned up looking like December Surviving vines should produce normal fruit and quality shouldn't be affected. Even damaged vines may produce secondary buds that will yield fruit. Frosts are funny because you can actually see where the cold air sits, leaving patchy sections of damage. One grower will lose his whole crop where the guy across the street with 5 feet more elevation will emerge unscathed. Maybe there will be a circle of green around the base of a frost fan, but as soon as the reach of the air stirring has been exceeded, the vines will be fried. Growers have a couple of options for protecting themselves from frost:
  • Wind machines that can keep low-settling air off of vines and mix up the inversion layer.
  • Irrigation is used to deposit a thin layer of ice over buds, keeping them at about -1 celcius and preventing damage from lower temps.
  • Crop insurance
Some vineyards didn't have frost protection because it's never been needed before, while others came close to using up their water reservoirs (a big prob if summer gets hot). Add huge fuel prices on top of this to power the pumps that spray the irrigation and basically, it sucks. What this could mean for you my friend is that the demand for top quality fruit could go through the roof this vintage bringing prices with it. It's still a little early to tell, and I will keep y'all updated as we move along, but I thought I'd give you a head's up.


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