Pins and Needles

Chardonnay on verge of budbreak

Chardonnay, the "early breaker" about to come out of hibernation, 3/24/12

March 25, 2012–It’s been difficult to listen to our non-farmer friends over the past two weeks.  They have been so excited about the unusually warm spring weather.  We smile and nod, but inside we have been fretting.  Temperatures that have reached 80 degrees in the day and only dropped to 50 at night have made our vines think it’s time to start making this year’s grapes.  It’s been hard to explain to the vines that bud break, the start of the growing season, doesn’t usually happen in the Finger Lakes until some time in May.  While basking in the warm sun for two straight weeks, they’ve forgotten that our last frost date is May 10.

The buds that will produce this year’s fruit came into existence last year, and have been in hibernation all winter.  Once acclimated to the cold, the buds can withstand temperatures well below freezing throughout the winter.  But after they have started growing in the spring, they perish at 28 degrees F.

It was much to our dismay that we found some instances of bud break in our vineyard yesterday, March 24.  We were dismayed not only because there are still 47 days to go until the threat of frost is over, but because it is forecast to get down into the low 20’s tomorrow night (March 26).  If the forecast is accurate, we will most definitely lose some of our potential crop.  Once the tender shoots freeze, they die and won’t produce any fruit until next year.

The vines most likely to see damage in our vineyard are Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. Riesling remains stalwartly dormant (proving once again why she is our flagship variety!) along with Pinot Noir and most of the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Is there anything we can do?  Not really.  If it were going to be a still night tomorrow, we could try burning several small fires throughout the vineyard to keep the cold air from settling near the vines.  But it’s going to be windy, so fires won’t do anything.  We just have to hope that our site, down close to the deepest part of Seneca Lake, will stay just a bit warmer than surrounding areas so that frost damage is minimal.

Gewurztraminer bud break

Gewurztraminer, the sacrificial lamb, 3/24/12


Follow-up, March 29, 2012–The temperature only dropped to 27 in Lodi on March 26.  We escaped largely unscathed, although we definitely lost some of the buds that looked like the Gewurztraminer pictured above.  The long-term forecast looks favorable for now, with lows around 32 degrees.  Cooler temperatures this week have stalled the growth process, but this year may yet be earliest budbreak on record for the Finger Lakes.