Mild winter weather might mean less wine later on
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Central Virginia is known for its wineries and vineyards, but this winter has been unusually mild. All these warm February days could lead to trouble down the road.
With the warm weather that has been occurring recently around Charlottesville and Albemarle County, a lot of buds are actually expected to break early at wineries this year. However, if a freeze hits, that means many grapes could be lost.
Weather is a real challenge for winemakers and vineyard owners. The worst part is this heat wave in what's supposed to be winter.
"The outdoorsman in me likes the weather that's coming, but the farming side has a little bit more caution with it. It's certainly something we're monitoring,” said Wes Roberts, the general manager and part owner of Lovingston Winery in Nelson County.
"This is the type of year that we want it to stay cold. We would like February and early March to stay super cold and that way, all the vines stay dormant and don't get active too early,” said George Hodson, the CEO of Veritas Vineyard and Winery in Afton.
When the ground is warm, the vines begin to swell, leaking water and sap. That's a sign that budding grapes are just around the corner.
"As this weather continues to warm and stay that way, is when will this bud start to break? When will these vines start to come out of their dormancy? One of the things we look for is kind of a weeping of the vine, which will start at all the different cut marks we have here. We'll start to see water coming out of the vine. That's sort of the first sign of bud break on its way,” Roberts said.
This time of year paves the way for just how much wine can be made later.
"What happens right now is so critically important, because it sets the length of the growing season. You know, the earlier these vines emerge, that kind of starts the clock on when the fruit has the opportunities to get ripe throughout the year. But once we have bud break, we're really at risk of frost,” Hodson said.
If a freeze or frost hits, like the one that occurred in May 2020, there will be significantly less fruit getting ripe. This leads to a shortage of wine on the shelves down the road.
"I hope nothing like 2020 ever happens again. That was probably one of the worst freezes we've had in the last 20 years at least,” Hodson said.
A couple of ways to combat Mother Nature is to have fires along the rows, heating up the vines, or to spend roughly $15,000 an hour to have a helicopter warm the fields. But both Lovingston and Veritas say that it's too expensive for them.
The devastating freeze in 2020 wiped out numerous grapes and vines across Central Virginia, and wineries are hoping that a similar situation does not affect their 2023 vintages.