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North country vineyards think careful pruning can save grapes after cold winter


Even though it’s officially spring, cold weather is lingering and has north country vineyard owners wondering whether a winter full of prolonged deep freezes will affect their fall harvests.

Gary L. Davis, co-owner of Bella-Brooke Vineyard in Edwardsville, said some of the vines on his eight-acre vineyard suffered damage from the cold. But he said it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with careful pruning.

Mr. Davis said the vines he grows are “bred for this kind of climate.”

Originally grown in Minnesota, the vines Mr. Davis purchased came from SUNY Fredonia, and he said they are meant to survive temperatures as low as minus 40.

“When it gets to 30, 35 below, you’re at nature’s mercy,” he said.

Although he hasn’t yet pruned the entire vineyard, Mr. Davis said he doesn’t think the plants have suffered any irreparable damage.

“These have been planted since 2008,” he said. “This was probably the coldest (year). We’ve had 30 below before, once or twice, but not this cold for this length of time.”

Philip J. Randazzo, owner of Clayton-based Coyote Moon Vineyards and president of the Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail, said that below-freezing temperatures this winter could have caused a bud loss on vines up to 50 percent. The temperature at the vineyard dropped to a low this winter of minus 33.6 degrees on Jan. 22.

When temperatures drop below minus 30 degrees, buds of cold hardy grape varieties are affected, Mr. Randazzo said. As vines bud over the next two weeks, he will assess how many buds survived during the winter. His will adjust his strategy for pruning buds on the vines accordingly.

The winery’s 18-acre vineyard produced about 30 tons of grapes last October, and Mr. Randazzo said he hopes to achieve similar results this harvest.

“We’re going to have some bud loss, and it’s going to take some special pruning this year to get more buds than normal to make up for the lost buds,” he said. “We still expect to have a normal harvest in the fall, but it might be lower than last year.”

During an average year, vineyards are pruned down to 40 buds per plant in the spring so that grapes are grown the most effectively. But more buds might be left on the plants this season, depending on the percentage that survived.

“Next week we’ll be out doing samples and pruning to see which ones are alive and dead,” Mr. Randazzo said. “If half of the buds are dead, we might leave 80 buds per plant to make up for buds that were killed.”

However, at the Cape Winery, launched in 2013 at Deerlick Farm in Cape Vincent, owner David B. Fralick isn’t expecting any damage whatsoever. The proximity of the vineyard to Lake Ontario, which moderates cold weather, kept temperatures from dropping low enough to kill buds, he said. The lowest temperature recorded at the vineyard was minus 22 degrees in late December.

“We went out and did a sampling of about 80 buds the other day, and for the varieties we would keep there was no loss that I could see,” Mr. Fralick said. “Some of the other vineyards had it worse, and I think I’m lucky compared to the rest of the state. We’re close enough to the lake that we didn’t get hurt so bad. People in the Finger Lakes region got clobbered.”

The vineyard harvested about six tons of grapes last fall, when it had three acres of vines in production, Mr. Flalick said. With five acres in production this season, that figure should climb to about eight tons of grapes.

Back at Bella-Brooke Vineyard, Mr. Davis said the only thing he’s concerned about is that if it stays cold, the summer blooming and fall harvest will be delayed. Despite that, he said he doesn’t expect a serious impact on productivity.

Typically the vines at Bella-Brooke bloom in early May with harvesting in September.

This year, if all goes well, Mr. Davis expects to make 26,000 bottles of wine, nearly double last year’s production. Last year the vineyard produced roughly 38 tons of grapes.

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