June 2017 Issue of Wines & Vines

Eastern Growing Regions Report Mild Winter--with Exceptions

by Linda Jones McKee

Lancaster, Pa.—From Colorado to New Jersey and Michigan to Texas, growers, extension agents and winemakers all are describing the winter of 2016-17 as “mild.” Two notable exceptions were Minnesota, where temperatures hit the lowest point for the winter in December, and Texas, which had “the hottest winter on record. Ever,” according to Matthew Cook, viticulture extension specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “That started the season quite early, so we’ve been seeing early signs of fungal disease. And we’ve had some rough weather already.”

Cook told Wines & Vines, “North Texas had baseball-size hail when the first tornados blew through March 26 and 27. That’s early for tornados.” He continued, “The High Plains got hit pretty hard (on Easter weekend). They received hail for a couple hours straight. A lot of growers there lost a substantial part of their crop. Some missed it, some got it.”

Minnesota’s winter temperature extremes started early. On Dec. 18, the thermometer dropped to -24° F, a very low temperature for that early in the winter. Dr. Matthew Clark, assistant professor of grape breeding and enology at the University of Minnesota, reported that cold temperatures persisted into January, but there was a warm spell in February. Temperatures rose to 66° F on March 6 and then dropped to 4° F on March 10, but “there wasn’t much damage after that March event.”

Marquette and Frontenac had 92% bud survival, while Itasca and Frontenac Gris were at 98%. Maréchal Foch did not fare as well, with only a 58% bud survival.

“We’re close to last year’s schedule,” Clark said. “But earlier than the typical season by a bit.”

Midwest: Michigan had a “normal” winter, while weather in Iowa was very mild and Illinois was “pretty mild.”

Mike White, viticulture specialist with the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, told Wines & Vines that Iowa had little snow and above-average temperatures—especially in late February. “I worried about bud break being early, especially late February into March. But it got cold again in March. Prospects are great; everything’s perfect. But we have the probability of frost to May 15,” White reported the third week of April.

“So far, so good,” stated Brad Beam, enology specialist with the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintner’s Association. “We’ve had no spring frosts, but the next week or so will be telling, and Northern Illinois can have frost until around Mother’s Day (mid-May).”

Mid-Atlantic: Dr. Tim Martinson, senior extension associate at Cornell University, reported that bud hardiness monitoring revealed minimal levels of dead buds. While March was cold, grapevines in New York had not deacclimated at that time. “The last frost day is about May 10,” Martinson said. “When we get past May 6 or 8, then usually we’re OK.”

According to Bryan Hed, research technologist at the Lake Erie Grape Research and Extension Center in North East, Pa., winter in Pennsylvania was “real mild,” with below-average snowfall. “Temperatures were mild throughout the winter,” Hed stated. “I wouldn’t consider this a winter. Everything looks good, but I’m concerned about spring frosts, as the last frost can be May 20.”

He also noted that it has taken two years for Pennsylvania vineyards to get past the damage they suffered from the extreme cold in January 2014 and February 2015. “Growers didn’t realize they had crown gall until those two winters brought it out. Vines with crown gall hung on and gave a crop. We waited to pull them out and limped along. Now growers are finishing replanting. It’s taken two years to get past the damage and renewal process from those winters.”

Dr. Gary Pavlis, professor and agricultural agent at Rutgers University, told Wines & Vines in late April, “Right now everything is great and looks good. Even after a mild winter, most grapes haven’t opened up yet.” Pavlis said the end date for possible frosts was “at the first full moon in May,” which took place on May 10 this year.

South: During the Virginia Vineyards Association winter meeting held Feb. 23-25, the cherry trees were blooming in Charlottesville. “We get concerned in February when we have 75° and 80° F days. If it then gets really cold, it could kill the vines,” noted Jennifer McCloud, owner of Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Va. Fortunately, the grapevines in the state were not as far along as the cherry trees and seem to have suffered minimal damage, even when temperatures dropped into the low 20s at night for several weeks in March.

North Carolina had an unseasonably warm winter. Joseph Geller, viticulture instructor at Surry Community College in Dobson, N.C., reported. “But then we had a cold early spring. There was some light frost early in April, but that didn’t hurt anyone, and the early varieties like Merlot and Chardonnay weren’t damaged.”

Fritz Westover, viticulture consultant and owner of Westover Vineyard Advising, consults with vineyards across the south. He stated that Georgia also had a mild winter, and bud break was two weeks early. There was no freeze damage in northern Georgia, where most of the wine grapes are grown, but south Georgia had some frost damage.

Western edge of the eastern region: Dr. Stephen Menke, associate professor of enology at Colorado State University, commented that while winter in the state was fairly mild, “We had no fall damage, no winter damage, and we’ll see what happens the next few weeks. You never know.”

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