Much of my childhood was spent growing up on my mother’s family farm just across the road from our house. Many of my relatives live nearby in houses built on land that was carved out of the original tract of land that my Grandfather began farming in the very early 1900’s. The number one lesson I learned about the agriculture business was that no
matter how well prepared and thought out your plans were you are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Whether it is corn, wheat or grapes you will always have to be able to cope with constant change and overwhelming problems or you will not succeed. The vintners in Southwestern and Northwestern Pennsylvania along with their counterparts in the Finger Lakes Region of New York are dealing with the effects of one of the coldest winters in recent memory. The real damage in Pennsylvania occurred in the Northwest , especially the area around Lake Erie, while the Southwest corner of the state received above average but manageable damage. I have talked with several winemakers about how this winter effected their vineyards and the following is a summary of what they told me.
Rich Ripepi of Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa said that they were leaving on extra buds when they pruned to be safe but should have gotten through in “relatively” good shape. Ray Matthews, the vineyard manager at Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill, Pa is still accessing his vines but signs are good that the damage isn’t too severe. Ray told me of a study that he read that noted statistically a vineyard in the Northeast will be devastated on average once every ten years but he has been lucky to have been spared so far. Tod Manspeaker of Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery in Bedford, Pa grows only vinifera vines in his vineyard. Tod has observed that certain varieties have suffered more than others with the average bud loss in the 50% range. To compensate for the loss Tod is leaving secondary and tertiary buds by pruning less and leaving four canes instead of two. This makes more work this year and much more work next year to clean up but by doing this Tod is expecting a normal crop. Paul Vezzetti from The Vineyard at Hershey in Middletown, Pa tells me that South Central Pennsylvania was on the border of the coldest weather this winter. He attributes the many cultural practices implemented before their initial planting in 2009 for mitigating much of this years temperature issues. By postponing pruning until after the worst winter weather had passed Paul was able to adjust his pruning plan to compensate for any winter damage found in the vineyard. Paul also predicts that anyone that hasn’t been as fortunate as he was to experience only small losses can expect to face a substantial rise in cost when they have to buy grapes from another vineyard with whom they don’t already have an established relationship.
Marti Macinski of Standing Stone Winery & Vineyard in Hector, NY tells me the Finger Lakes Region was hit very hard with many vineyards losing 100% of this years crop. She is fortunate that her vineyard is on the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake and benefits from a temperature moderating effect that has led to the area being nicknamed the “Banana Belt”. The Standing Stone Vineyard has received some damage but the damage can be offset by leaving extra buds to produce a nearly normal crop. Marti has to wait until the growing season gets underway before she can tell if there is any vine damage.
Marti and all winemakers know that maintaining a vineyard can be a brutal and unforgiving undertaking but one that does come with great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when everything goes right. I wish all the producers my very best and want them to know that I have the utmost respect for their perseverance and passion with which they pursue their craft.