Frost, Flood, and Drought – That’s Farming!
Last year we filled the empty areas in our fields with 2.5 more acres of vines. Often, people ask for a more full-bodied red, so we added an acre of Cabernet Franc. We expanded our Pinot Gris plantings, and we completed our Chardonnay vineyard.
Planting day was in late June 2014, because it was too wet for the planting crew to operate their big machinery until then. After which, we hit the characteristic County dry spell in July and August (so dry, even the rabbits have to carry their own water, laughs my farmer neighbour). The result was the new plantings weren’t quite able to develop the root systems and growth that they normally would have.
In mid-May this year, we had a glimpse of summer, with sun warming the earth and air to temperatures in the mid-20’s.The vines awoke and pushed shoots and buds and clusters like crazy. After a brutally cold winter, we welcomed the green growth. A forecast of 20 degree + weather right through May 24 had us winegrowers dreaming of a blockbuster year for making wine in Prince Edward County.
But Jack Frost reared his ugly head on May 23. Temperatures plummeted to -4 degrees in our vineyard. Just before sunrise the next day, everything looked green and verdant. The new shoots were still frozen solid. Then the sun rose and melted it all. By noon, the vines looked like spinach that had been left in the refrigerator too long. Two days later – everything dried into brittle brown and grey mummified remains, and the vines had to regroup and start the summer growth over again.
Then in June the rains came. They seemed relentless and puddles were persistent in the lower areas of the fields, particularly where the young vines were planted. People say that vines don’t like wet feet, so I fretted and worried about the vineyard throughout.
In July and August, of course, glorious sunshine returned, and verdant growth resumed. Right now, we have near perfect conditions for growing Pinot Noir, with hot summer days and cool nights. Fortunately, the gentle slope of the Magic Hill vineyard, where our oldest Pinot Noir vines grow — sloughed off most of the effects of Frost and Flood. But the bulk of the vineyard – the Chardonnay and remaining Pinot Noir — were hit hard and production will likely be only 1/10 of its potential.
As for the baby vines, some just couldn’t handle it and never regrew after they were hit by the hard frost. I was hopeful that some dormant buds would erupt late — gently resuscitated by the warmth of the summer sun. And a few buds did. But we lost a significant percentage of our new plantings. So one of the first jobs today will be to walk the new plantings and count up how many replants we need to order from Vinetech, the nursery in Niagara.
People ask if it’s been a good year to grow grapes — yes and no. It looks like the quality will be high, particularly if we have a nice September. They hear about the frost, flood and drought, shake their heads and say “that’s farming…why do you do it?”
There are a hundred reasons, and none simple to explain. The visceral connection of the land and earth to the foods we eat and drink, the patient green miracle of watching the vines grow and produce fruit from only water and sunshine, the anticipation of a better harvest next year…all these things and more.