Bitter winter takes toll in Va. vineyards - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Bitter winter takes toll in Va. vineyards

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BERRYVILLE - VAL VAN METER, The Winchester Star
    
The harsh conditions of winter and early spring 2013-14 have taken their toll on grapevines.
    
"We're going through nearly a perfect storm in the Virginia wine grape industry," said Jim Bogaty, owner of Veramar Vineyard, located east of Berryville in Clarke County.
    
The bitter winter cold, coupled with a late frost on Mother's Day last year, has done major damage to local vines.
    
This comes at a time when Virginia's quickly growing wine industry needs more, not fewer, grapes.
    
Tony Wolf, professor of viticulture and director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center on Laurel Grove Road in Frederick County, estimates the state has lost 5 percent of its 2014 grape harvest.
    
The good news is that grape growers here fared better than those in states farther north, like Ohio and New York, he added.
    
Bogaty estimates he has lost 10 percent of the bud growth on his almost 30 acres of grapevines, due to the many frigid dips in temperature.
    
His vineyard has about 22,000 vines.
    
"That's a lot to be at risk," Bogaty said.
    
A typical acre can yield three to four tons of fruit a year, he added, and that can produce 10,000 cases of wine or 120,000 bottles.
    
The winter damage comes on the heels of the frost in May 2013 that severely damaged the blooming vines in Virginia, cutting production.
    
The fluctuation in temperatures is another threat to grapevines, Bogaty said. The older vines, which have hardened, have some protection from the cold, but young vines are particularly susceptible. The buds begin to swell as spring approaches and a frost can kill them.
    
Bogaty added that the viniferous vines - the ones that produce cabernet, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc wines - can't take as much cold as the hybrids or the Norton, a species native to Virginia.
    
Loss of state-grown grapes poses a problem for Virginia's wineries. The state's farm winery law mandates that a certain percentage of the grapes used to make wine need to be grown in the state.
    
"The industry does need more grapes," Wolf said.
    
Added Bogaty: "Virginia wine growth has been dramatic. Vineyards planting haven't kept up."
    
For other fruits, such as the Shenandoah Valley's apples, the picture is brighter.
    
While the 2013-14 winter will go down as one of the coldest in recent years, "the vast majority of the apple, pear and cherry trees have little to no damage," said Gregory Peck, assistant professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech and a researcher at the local fruit laboratory.
    
Peck said peach and sweet cherry buds are hardy down to about minus 10 degrees.
    
"Plants are not affected by wind chills, so we are talking about absolute cold temperatures, which are much warmer than the wind-chill temperatures reported on the news."
    
Apples and pears are generally hardy to 25 below, he said.
    
A few peach blossoms, on trees located at the bottoms of hills, were blighted by the cold and probably will have less fruit this year, but most trees still have the ability to produce a full crop, Peck said.
    
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Information from: The Winchester Star, http://www.winchesterstar.com

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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