Growers were caught unprepared
Grape and fruit growers have generations of experience dealing with spring frosts, which often come when young buds are at their most vulnerable to cold damage.
But the sub-zero cold snap of December that killed grapes and vines across the valley caught many growers unprepared.
“We were not sensitive to how cold it was going to get, plus it came early,” said Neil Guard of Avant Vineyards on Orchard Mesa, where he registered temperatures as low as minus 12 degrees.
He said he also saw damage to some peach buds but won’t assess the extent of that until this spring when the buds are ready to open.
Grower Bruce Talbott of East Orchard Mesa said it’s not unusual to battle spring frosts.
“But we don’t have a lot of experience with winter frost problems,” he said.
The cold was deep enough to kill the trunks of vines, damage that can’t be readily assessed until temperatures rise in the spring.
“You might not see much bud damage now, but if the vine was girdled by frost, you have to start all over,” Talbott said.
Peach growers, too, reported suffering some losses.
Henry Tashiro, who grows peaches at his Lucky Duck Farm on Palisade, said the cold was unprecedented for him.
“I’ve only been at this for 10 years, so I’m sort of new,” Tashiro said. “Usually the spring is the critical time. This is the first time I’ve seen frost damage in winter.”
He estimated he lost 50 percent of the new buds in his orchards but said he still should have plenty of peaches next summer.
“The best time to tell is in the spring,” he said. “We usually thin 70–80 percent of the crop, anyway, so we expect we’ll have a full crop.”
State viticulturist Horst Caspari of the Colorado State University Orchard Mesa Research Station said a near-total loss of grapes in Delta County in 2007 was similar in scope to the expected loss this year in Mesa County.
“In 2007, we lost pretty much all of Delta County (and) the yield impact on the state as a whole is about the same as what we lost this year,” Caspari said.
He said the cold killed as much as 25 percent of the Mesa County grape crop, most of the damage coming west of Sink Creek on Orchard Mesa.
Talbott, who has grown up in a fruit-growing family, remained realistic about this latest setback.
“Dead’s dead, and I’m not going to bring it back,” he said. “I’m more concerned about what’s still alive. You deal with something every year.”