By early May, the extent of the from-Alaska cold front that pushed mid-20 degree temperatures over California’s Central Coast premium wine grape growing region April 8-10 was becoming more evident.
Dana Merrill’s company, Mesa Vineyard Management, Templeton, Calif., owns and manages 6,000 acres of vineyards, extending from south of the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, north through San Luis Obispo County to King City in Monterey County. Many were damaged by the freezing temperatures. Growers suffering the most damage, he says, were in the area between Paso Robles (San Luis Obispo County) and Greenfield (Monterey County)/
Merrill says damage seems worse in his Rhone varieties, like Grenache, Roussanne, and Vigonier, which budded out early and got nailed by the frigid air. Syrah isn’t looking good at this point, either
But, ther varieties are faring better.
“Zinfandel is pretty tough and bud break was very delayed this year,” he says. “Merlot has shown good growth, but the vines are stunted. The vascular systems have been affected and those vineyards look odd, but they should recover.”
In early May, he noticed what he describes as “lethargic growth” along the cordons.
“I cut into the ends and saw that where the cordons had tried to extend young canes, the wood looked as if it had been freeze-dried,” Merrill says. “Basically, they were winter-killed. Two-thirds of the cordons are dead tissue and they won’t make a healthy vine. So, we’ll have to cut a bunch of cordons back and start all over this season.”
By the time the final toll is tallied, he expects last month’s freeze will have knocked a big hole in the Central Coast wine grape harvest this year.
Assuming a yield loss of 2 tons per acre on 27,000 acres of grapes, he figures production in the Paso Robles area could drop by 54,000 tons. If vintners can bottle 60 cases of wine from a ton of grapes, that works out to a total decline in wine production of 3.2 million cases this year.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if growers in Monterey County lost as many acres as those in Paso Robles,” he says. “So, the Central Coast could lose as much 5 million cases of wine this year.
“We won’t run out of wine, but many wineries won’t find grapes to draw from this year. Of course, we really won’t know what the vineyards will produce until we pick the crop and run it over the scales.”