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North country vineyards think careful pruning can save grapes after cold winter

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Even though it’s officially spring, cold weather is lingering and has north country vineyard owners wondering if a winter full of prolonged deep freezes will impact their harvests in the fall.

Gary L. Davis, co-owner of Bella-Brooke Vineyard in Edwardsville, said some of the vines on his eight-acre vineyard suffered damage from the cold. He believes, however, that it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with careful pruning.

Mr. Davis said the vines they grow are “bred for this kind of climate.”

Originally grown in Minnesota, Mr. Davis purchased his vines from SUNY Fredonia and said they are supposed to survive temperatures as low as negative 40.

“When it gets to 30, 35 below, you’re at nature’s mercy,” he said.

Although he hasn’t yet pruned the entire vineyard, Mr. Davis doesn’t think any irreparable damage has been done to the plants.

“These have been planted since 2008,” Mr. Davis said of his vines. “This was probably the coldest [year]. We’ve had 30 below before, once or twice, but not this cold for this length of time.”

Philip J. Randazzo, owner of Clayton-based Coyote Moon Vineyards and president of the Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail, said that freezing temperatures this winter could have caused a bud loss on vines up to 50 percent. The temperature dropped to a winter low at the vineyard of -33.6 degrees on Jan. 22.

When temperatures drop below -30 degrees, buds of cold hardy grape varieties are impacted, Mr. Randazzo said. As vines bud over the next two weeks, Mr. Randazzo said, he will assess how many buds survived during the winter. His strategy for pruning buds on the vines will be adjusted accordingly.

The winery’s 18-acre vineyard produced roughly 30 tons of grapes last October, and Mr. Randazzo still hopes to achieve a similar results this harvest season.

“We’re going to have some bud loss, and it’s going to take some special pruning this year to get more buds than normal to make up for the lost buds,” he said. “We still expect to have a normal harvest in the fall, but it might be lower than last year.”

During an average year, vineyards are pruned down to 40 buds per plant in the spring so that grapes are grown the most effectively. But more buds might be left on the plants this season, depending on the percentage that survived.

“Next week we’ll be out doing samples and pruning to see which ones are alive and dead,” Mr. Randazzo said. “If half of the buds are dead, we might leave 80 buds per plant to make up for buds that were killed.”

However, over at the Cape Winery, launched in 2013 at Deerlick Farm in Cape Vincent, owner David B. Fralick isn’t expecting any damage whatsoever. The close proximity of the vineyard to Lake Ontario, which moderates cold weather, kept temperatures from dropping low enough to kill buds, he said. The lowest temperature recorded at the vineyard was -22 degrees in late December.

“We went out and did a sampling of about 80 buds the other day, and for the varieties we would keep there was no loss that I could see,” Mr. Fralick said. “Some of the other vineyards had it worse, and I think I’m lucky compared to the rest of the state. We’re close enough to the lake that we didn’t get hurt so bad. People in the Finger Lakes region got clobbered.”

The vineyard harvested about six tons of grapes last fall, when it had three acres of vines in production, Mr. Flalick said. With five acres in production this season, that figure should climb to about eight tons of grapes.

Back at Bella-Brooke Vineyard, Mr. Davis said the only thing he’s concerned about is that if it stays cold, the summer blooming and fall harvest will be delayed. Despite that, he said he doesn’t expect a serious impact on productivity.

Typically the vines at Bella-Brooke bloom in early May with harvesting taking place in September.

This year, if all goes well, Mr. Davis expects to make 26,000 bottles of wine, nearly double last year’s production. Last year the vineyard produced roughly 38 tons of grapes.

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