Assessing the damage to California’s Central Coast premium wine crop three months after a severe cold snap frosted vines throughout the region, long-time vineyard manager John Crossland says it could have been worse.
“There’s a real sense of loss in this area from the short crop,” he says. “But, on the other hand, demand and prices of the grapes are both up, and that bodes well for the future.”
Crossland’s Vineyard Professional Services, Templeton, Calif., provides management and consulting services for vineyards in the Paso Robles areaof San Luis Obispo County and southern Monterey County.
He’s heard of losses on individual vineyards as much as 70 percent to 80 percent.
“One grower said it was probably the greatest amount of frost damage he’s seen in the 35 years he’s been in the Paso Robles area,” he says. “He’s probably correct. I’ve heard of a lot of vineyards that expect to produce no more than 2.5 to 3 tons of grapes per acre this season. That’s about a 50 percent loss.”
Crossland has been growing grapes for nearly four decades, starting in the Santa Maria area for 10 years before moving to manage operations for a Napa Valley vineyard. He returned to the Central Coast to set up his vineyard management business 14 years ago.
“Some growers here are concerned that damage from this year’s frost will affect the crop for more than one season,” he says. “But, experience tells me we have a good chance of normal growth and production next year. I like to think of the glass as half full.”
In his case, the extent of frost damage varied more by growth stage, type of rootstock, and timing of pruning at a specific sites rather than by grape variety.
“Vineyards with frost damage responded with a tremendous push of secondary and tertiary buds,” Crossland says. “This resulted in a lot of shoots and, with all the rain we had, spring growth that was excellent to excessive.”
This, in turn, added as much as $100 an acre to the cost of thinning the number of shoots to the desired density. That’s not all: “Because some of the primary shoots on a vine weren’t frosted but others were, we’ll have to go back in and do some more thinning before harvest to even-out maturation of the fruit.”
As of mid-July, he puts development of this year’s crop at least three weeks behind normal.
“After getting beaten up by the frost this spring, we’re hoping for nice, warm consistent weather in the harvest season,” Crossland says. “If so, we should have good quality fruit.”