Late frost hits famous wine areas

Spring brings constant change to Colorado wine country.

We’ve already seen temperatures ranging from the 30s to the 80s, high winds and daily weather ranging from scorching sun to rainy stretches reminiscent of the Northwest.

One thing we’ve dodged so far is temperatures below freezing.

Orchardists haven’t been so lucky and several times this spring they’ve been rousted out of bed by the frost alarm going off.

Up to now winemakers count themselves lucky, and if things continue this way we may see a repeat of last year’s bountiful harvest, which was the largest seen so far and came at a time many winemakers’ reserves were running bony following several lean years.

One of the global impacts of climate change seen in fruit- and grape-growing regions from western Colorado to the Rhine and Burgundy is earlier bud breaks, which puts most stone fruits at a severe disadvantage because their young flowers are susceptible to late frosts.

Grapes break bud later than tree fruit, which normally puts grape buds still tightly wrapped and mostly unaffected during late frosts.

This year, however, the shoe dropped in some of the world’s most-famous wine regions, including Burgundy and elsewhere in Europe where a late frost on April 26–27 brought temperature below freezing.

A report issued by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) said the “extremely rare” frost affected vineyards across Burgundy.

Among the vineyards most affected were the higher vineyards in Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois, the north of the Côte de Beaune (Savigny, Chorey and down to Meursault, Pommard and Volnay) and the Côte de Nuits.

Early reports came too early to provide detailed analysis of the damage but this week it was reported that nearly half (46 percent) of the vineyards — covering 13,453 hectares (33,234 acres) — suffered damage of at least 30 percent of the young buds with 23 percent of the vineyards reporting losses of more than 70 percent.

The remaining 54 percent — 15,797 hectares — received less than 30 percent damage.

There also have been reports of equally severe frosts in the Loire and Languedoc regions of France and in the Abruzzo in Italy.

It’s not like Abruzzo, which borders the Adriatic Sea about midway along the east side of the Italian “boot” and perhaps more remembered for the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, hasn’t suffered setbacks before.

But like many of the smaller wine regions in Italy, the last 40–50 years have seen a renaissance in Abruzzo, where winemaking dates back to the sixth century B.C.

Large cooperative wineries concentrated in the Chieti province produce vast amounts of wine, which then are sold in bulk to other Italian wine regions such as Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto for blending.

The region is famed for its Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, which in the late 20th and early 21st centuries became one of Italy’s most-exported wines.

Local note: The Living Farm Café in Paonia is hosting Brent and Karen Helleckson of Stone Cottage Cellars on May 17 for the season’s first winemaker’s dinner.

The dinner features a four-course meal matched with four Stone Cottage Cellars wines. Tickets cost $49 each. Information and reservations are available at 970-527-3779.

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