What is in this article?:
- California wine grape growers and vintners are tallying up the damage caused earlier this month when a bitter-cold Alaskan weather front slowly moved through a large chunk of the state’s Central Coast premium wine grape growing area.
- Damage is unquestionably extensive in the northern San Luis Obispo and Southern Monterey counties around Paso Robles, Calif., and north to the King City area where tender 2011 crop buds were fried from hours of mid-20 degree temperatures.
- Some vineyards may not have a crop to harvest this fall due to the April 8-10 frost.
What made the frost so devastating were low dew points and no inversion layer as temperatures dipped to 24-25 F and stayed there for hours. Wind machines are useless without an inversion layer.
It was the most damaging frost one viticulturist had seen in 25 years. Another said it has been 40 years since the area had experienced a frost like this one. The coastal influence normally lessens the chance of frost, but that influence disappeared with the frigid Alaskan cold.
Dale Hampton of Santa Maria, Calif., veteran coastal wine grape grower, said so far none of his vineyards in the Santa Maria area are showing damage.
“Protecting with sprinklers definitely did the trick. We had the cold for a long time; 11 hours. If we have frost, it is normally for about five hours at most,” he said.
“Our sprinkler frost protection systems are not engineered for protecting against frost for that long. If we had had another night of frost, we would have run out of water in our reservoirs,” he said. Others did, according to Zelinski who has heard reports of drained reservoirs and lost wells in the middle of frost protection.
Hampton added that he has heard reports that the Santa Ynez Valley wine grape crop in Santa Barbara County was “banged up a little bit by the frost.”
Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, Calif., said he has also had reports of frost damage west of Lodi in the Delta area, as well as farther north in Solano County. “I have not heard of any damage on the North Coast,” he added.
“Damage was sporadic and some was significant,” he said. However, it was not as bad in the Lodi area as the 2009 frost.
DiBuduo also said there was hail damage in areas throughout the state from the same Alaskan storm, but it was not widespread.
The frost and hail came as the demand and price for wine grapes were on the upswing.
“The interest has been there early for 2011 grapes for the first time in the 12 years I have been at Allied,” he said. That is expected to heighten in the wake of the frost. There is no question frost has reduced the California crop. How much is the $64 question.