The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 12, 2014

Ashtabula County’s grape industry takes a hit from Mother Nature

— Grape growers are holding their breath until they get a chance to see how much the recent extreme cold spell damaged the 2014 grape crop.

“This will hurt the grape growers and the wine industry especially,” said Ashtabula County Extension Agent David Marrison.

Marrison estimated 30 to 50 percent of the 2014 crop would be damaged, but growers need three or four days of temperatures in the 40s before they can begin reviewing the buds to determine the damage, he said.

A special workshop will be held in February to help growers read their crop damage.

“Based on what they (growers) find, they will have to make management decisions,” Marrison said. He said there are some actions that can be taken to help vines survive through pruning and other means.

The overall damage to each operation will be different. “It just depends on where they are in the (growth) cycle,” Marrison said.

“It’s pretty safe to say it hit the entire industry,” he said.

Marrison said each variety of grape is rated to a certain low temperature that it can survive. He said some of the wine grapes are rated to negative three or negative five degrees and most area growers experienced temperatures that went below that limit.

“When we look at these events it is usually one half hour (of extreme temperature) not five or six hours,” he said.

Tony Debevc, owner of Chalet Debonne Winery, in Harpersfield and Madison townships, said he believes it will be at least a 50 percent crop reduction.

The only way to know the full damage is to slice the bud with a knife. He said a dead bud will be black while a healthy bud has a more “fleshy” color.

“We won’t know our trunk or vine damage until spring,” Debevc said.

He said he has never seen a situation where the temperatures dropped for so long and significant wind continued to be a part of the equation.

The one benefit to the wind was it made the entire area the same temperature while usually hidden valleys drop below the rest of the area, Debevc said.

Some wine grapes and juice grapes will likely not be damaged because they are more hearty and can stand temperatures as low as negative 10 degrees, he said.

The Niagara, Catawba and Concord grapes represent the hearty strands, while many specialty wine grapes such as Merlot and Pino Noir are more susceptible to cold weather issues.

Growers like Debevc are large enough that some of the risk is reduced because they grow more than they use to make wine. “We are an exporter of fruit,” Debevc said. He said Chalet Debonne will have less fruit to sell to other wineries.

Smaller vineyards face a “double whammy” of the inability to use the fruit they paid to grow and must buy supplement product to make wine in “down years.”

Matt Meineke, owner of M Cellars in Harpersfield Township, said he is being “cautiously optimistic”. “I don’t think it will be all doom and gloom,” he said.

M Cellars has been in operation for about a year, but Meineke has been growing grapes for about six years. He said if there is a 50 percent crop loss his business will be able to survive.

Meineke said 2013 was a fantastic year and there is still some inventory from the 2012 season.

“There is always risk,” he said.


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