Grapes get freeze reprieve

The recent cold front didn't have as adverse an effect on the Palisade wine industry as feared, and swift actions to harvest their crops Thursday should help vineyard owners have a successful year, said Miranda Ulmer, viticulture extension specialist.

The cold front that came through western Colorado this week didn't impact Palisade's vineyards as badly as expected, a wine growing expert said Friday.

Miranda Ulmer, viticulture extension specialist for the Colorado State University's Grand Junction extension service, said the swift actions taken by vineyard owners and their workers earlier in the week to get the rest of the harvest in should help them have a successful year.

Other actions, such as using methods to keep heat on their vines, will help prevent the low temperatures from permanently damaging future growing years, she said.

"There's two different ways that grapes can be damaged, either the harvest of the current year or young vines for the upcoming year," she said. "Some areas experienced the cold more than others. There were just lots of pockets of micro-climates."

Kris Sanders, a meteorologist in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said that while the official temperature at the Grand Junction airport did dip down to 19 degrees, Palisade was nearly 10 degrees warmer.

"Right there at the (De Beque) canyon it was 28," Sanders said. "It was pretty close to what we were thinking as far as temperatures. Palisade is closer to the drainage there coming out of the canyon, so they tend to be on the warmer side as opposed to the west side of the valley."

Sanders said that low temperature only lasted from about 5:15 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Friday, meaning it didn't take long before temperatures started to rise above freezing.

That came as a relief to grape growers, who used a multitude of techniques to keep their vines protected from the cold, Ulmer said.

She said the region experienced something similar in 2008, when an October freeze threatened harvests and potential long-term damage to vines, particularly the young ones.

"The low that they got down to was about 22 degrees," Ulmer said. "They ended up seeing not much of an effect on the harvest. Also, the 2009 harvest ended up being one of the largest yielding years that we've ever had."

But as an example of how bad it can get, CSU's research station had a newly planted block of vines that year, about half of which died because of that year's early freeze, she said.

That's why Ulmer was recommending area grape growers focus more on protecting their young vines rather than trying to rush in the rest of their harvests.

She said most were only about three-fourths of the way through for the year, but that last-minute scrambling to get their grapes harvested helped many to complete it before the freeze hit.

"A lot of their priority was getting the grapes off the vines, and not much evidence of cold damage was evident on the leaves as of now," she said. "Even if we do see it, after the grapes are off the vines, the leaves turn yellow and go dormant anyway, so I don't imagine we'll see much cold damage. We won't be able to tell how the young vines were affected until next spring, though."

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