This winter has been one of the warmest in recent years, and Northern Virginia winegrowers say they are worried about how the rise in temperature and a potential drop in temperature could impact the production of grapes and growth of vineyards.
Kirk Wiles, the CEO and founder of Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, says that the possibility of future rising temperatures could mean an “off-season” for wine production. An off-season would mean the winery would not have a great vintage or growing season, leading to less wine and “less quality.”
Although this winter hasn’t been “overly warm,” according to Wiles, there is the potential threat of 70- or even 80-degree days that can cause a “bud break” — when the grape vines begin to sap too early.
Wiles says he’s worried that an early season frost could “kill any buds” after said bud break and ultimately not produce fruit on the vine for the season.
“If that happens too early in the season, it can be catastrophic,” Wiles says. “If it goes back to a deep freeze for even a couple of hours in one night, it will kill the buds for the entire season.”
Wiles, who also chairs the Virginia Wine Board, says a vineyard can be “completely decimated” in a matter of “two hours in the middle of a night” due to quick rising and dropping temperatures.
Typically, the first week in May is the benchmark for Wiles to know that the vineyards are “safe” from a late season freeze.
As for ways to prevent any damage done to the vineyards, Wiles says some spray protectors can help mitigate any catastrophic effects, although that doesn’t help completely solve the problem. For March and April, Wiles said he hopes the temperatures are “not too warm,” so a bud break can be prevented. He also hopes there won’t be any heavy rain.
“We are at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Wiles says. “It reminds us year in and year out, whether good or bad, that we are farmers, and you get one chance a year to make exceptional wines.”
At 8 Chains North Winery in Waterford, owner and assistant winemaker Edz Sturans says the winery is preparing for a bud break, as it has already seen “weeping” vines and the possibility for freeze in March. According to Sturans, this will cause “significant problems” with the harvest, possibly damaging and/or killing the vines, which would then lead to “no real harvest.”
In anticipation of issues, such as the weather changes, Sturans says 8 Chains North has selected sites that the vineyards are planted on that tend to be warmer in cold weather and have better circulation. These sites also provide good drainage and circulation for the vineyards, as well as the protection from cold air becoming trapped and leading to further damage.
Although Sturans says it is currently not known how the potential cold snap will affect the flavor of this year’s wine, there is hope that the harvest fruit will get more “concentrated flavors.”
He says 8 Chains North Winery is expecting a freeze, but does remain hopeful for a “steady move” toward spring weather.
Feature image courtesy Paradise Springs Winery
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