Grape crop may be a loss in 2015, but viticulturists hopeful for 2016

Grape field day

HARPERSFIELD, Ohio —  Back-to-back years of treacherous winter weather has impacted many areas of agriculture, but none more than the grape crop.

The 2015 Northeast Ohio Grape Field Day was held Aug. 27 in Harpersfield and the grape producers attending each hoped to prevent what happened as a result of the winter weather in 2014 and 2015 from happening again.

Many of the attendees discussed the damage to their vines from the 2014 winter and the total loss many suffered as a result of below zero temperatures for over 100 hours in February. The viticulturists agreed that if a vineyard produced any grapes this year, then they were lucky.

Ferrante Vineyard

One vineyard hit hard in 2015 was the Ferrante Winery, the first stop on the field day tour.
Nicholas Ferrante said his vineyards were hit hard and had never suffered such damage. He estimates they will be feeling the economic impacts for years.

Ferrante and Dr. Imed Dami, Ohio State Extension viticulturist, presented on information on how the Ohio grape industry is adapting and trying to prevent damage this winter.

Dami has been completing studies at the vineyard with graduate students to find the best way to advise viticulturists on how to prepare for another long winter.

Lowest temperature

Dami told the group that the lowest temperature recorded at the Ferrante Vineyard was 19.3 degrees below zero, which was recorded Feb. 16, 2015. It meant 100 percent bud and cane damage to the vines, but live buds were found under the soil mound.

Ferrante said the vineyard didn’t bury all of the canes, and learned just how important it is to mound the dirt over the buds — what was buried is what made it this season.

However, the vines that did produce only produced a portion of what is considered a normal crop.

“We only have growth on the vineyards in some varieties where it was buried; if it wasn’t buried, it died,” said Dami.
“You need a lot of dirt,” Ferrante added.

He said the seeding of a cover crop — he uses oats and rye  — helped to hold the dirt in place.

Ferrante explained that once the snow melted and crews could get in his 50 acres of vineyards, the work began. They removed all of the wood that had been part of the grapevines.

“It cost a lot of money, but I think we are farther ahead,” said Ferrante.

Suckers pruned

He added the suckers left on the plants that survived the winter had to be removed as well, in order to get a healthier vine.

Ferrante said he left between four and six suckers per vine last winter.
He added that any canes larger than a dime were removed. He explained the larger canes do not provide protection for the vines.

Dami said the vines may not even have to go through a winter to have damage if the canes are left too large. The vines can sustain damage in a cold fall. He added that the larger canes offer 10 degrees less protection than smaller canes.

Other research

Dami and his graduate students studied three options for training trunks after the winter damage at Ferrante’s winery: fan training, VSP training and combined training.
In the fan training, the clusters were at the base; in the VSP training, the clusters were removed; and in the combined training method, it meant partial cluster removal.

The difference between the three of them was the labor involved, and Ferrante said that cost has to be considered.

“However no fruit means no income. Fruit is what pays for these vineyards,” said Ferrante.
M Cellars. Not far down the road, Matt Meineke, owner of M Cellars, proved that the extra labor costs in burying the canes paid off.
His crop rebounded with as much as 80 percent production this year.

“It’s proof that’s what it takes,” Meineke said.

He buried the canes from the vines between one and half to two feet.
Meineke admitted that the hard part of the process is unburying every vine, but added it can be done with a pitchfork just by going through the dirt.

“You have got to be careful not to break them,” said Meineke.
He said that after the 2014 winter, he knew he had to try something different, and he thought this process might work — and it did.

“It’s like insurance. You buy it and hope you don’t need it,” Meineke said as he explained why he chose to pay for the labor to bury the canes.

Labor costs

Meineke said it cost the winery $6,000 in additional labor last fall, but after a winter like 2015, he knows it was the right choice for his winery.
He said it is important for his winery to keep the Grand Valley River Label and without a crop, that would not have been possible since it would have meant purchasing the fruit to make wine.

Meineke said it seems like the best thing to do every year for winery from now on.
He started taking the canes out of the ground in April after the snow had passed and it resulted in almost a full crop this year.

“There is no scientific work behind it except for the fruit on the wire,” said Meineke.

Grape producers on the tour agreed that if an addition in labor is what it takes to secure a crop, then that’s what it will have to be done.


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