Vines Catching up in Northern U.S.

A late spring arrives in the Finger Lakes and other northern grape growing regions

by Linda Jones McKee
After a winter that dragged on far too long in New York and other Eastern states, bud break — as seen here on a Concord vine in a vineyard near Branchport, N.Y., on the west side of Keuka Lake — has finally arrived. Photo by Finger Lakes Grape Program.

Watkins Glen, N.Y.—After a long winter, spring is finally arriving in cool and cold climate vineyards across the East and Midwest.

When Wines & Vines spoke with Chris Stamp, owner and winemaker of Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen, N.Y. on May 11, he went outside to check which grape varieties were at bud break. He reported that it was 42° F, “clear but chilly,” as he walked into the vineyards below the winery building. “They come out first on Baco [Noir],” he said, and the Baco vineyard was at bud break. Buds were also out on Concord and Léon Millot; early buds were starting on Vignoles and Cayuga; and he could see some leaf definition on small Riesling buds.

Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture specialist with the Finger Lakes Grape Program, told Wines & Vines that while winter went on far too long and spring weather had been slow in warming up, overall the winter in the Finger Lakes was “pretty mild.” Bud break started over the weekend of May 5-6 on the early varieties, and most vines have swelling buds, with Vidal vines being the last to wake up.

He commented that the exotherm samples he had taken over the winter were quite normal and showed the vines had had good hardiness levels. “Bud injury samples in early April showed normal numbers of about 20% damage. And under 20% is relatively normal,” Walter-Peterson said. “The native and hybrids look fine. A cool April is helpful for cutting down frost injury.”

Eastern New York
Because the eastern New York region extends from Westchester County just north of New York City to the Canadian border, viticulture specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Dr. Jim Meyers watched bud break move from south to north between May 4 and May 12.

Vineyards in the southern Hudson Valley are planted primarily with vinifera and some hybrid varieties and winter temperatures drop to about 2°F, while growers nearer to Canada grow primarily cold-hardy varieties developed at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University and some hybrids, all of which can withstand winter lows of -16°F. Even colder events frequently occur in the Champlain Valley at the north end of the region. “The Eastern New York attitude is to grow what works well in their location,” Meyers said. “The one cultivar that is planted from north to south is Marquette. It may do better up north, partly because there is less disease pressure. In the Hudson Valley, there is more disease, and growers have to manage it more like a vinifera.”

Meyers said when he compared data from 2017 with this year, the warmer parts of the eastern New York region were further behind this spring compared with last year than the vineyards closer to Canada. As of May 14, he said some of the most northern vineyards are still not at bud break. The good news, Meyers added, is that there have been few, if any, spring frosts in the whole eastern New York region.

Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt
Jackie Dresser, viticulture extension specialist at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program at the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory (CLEREL), reported the region had a long winter with cycles of abnormal warmth alternating with very cold spells, where temperatures dropped 40 to 50 degrees through the freezing zone. Early December had a high of 55°F, and then temperatures went from the 40s to 6°F. In January, the thermometer went from 57°F to 9° F in 24 hours.

The vineyards, however, had the advantage of snow protection — the snow depth before the New Year measured in feet, not inches, and the “bomb cyclone” in early January brought more low temperatures and snowfall. The region, which has about 30,000 acres of grapes with more than 18,000 of those acres in New York, experienced a long, cold winter that seemed as if it would never quit. However, bud break did finally arrive on the Concord vines in the CLEREL phenology research block on May 9.

Dr. Dean S. Volenberg, viticulture and winery operations extension specialist at the Grape and Wine Institute of the University of Missouri, told Wines & Vines that Missouri vineyards had achieved good acclimation before cold weather hit in late December-early January. Cold weather extended into April, with that month being the coldest April in 35 years. “It’s been an extended cold spring,” Volenberg said, “but the grapes pulled through. There’s no winter damage.”

Of more concern is that rainfall across the state was 2.5 to 4 inches below normal in April. Columbia, Mo. had only 0.14 inches of rain that month, the least amount in April for 120 years of weather records. Bud break was late across the state, and officially arrived about May 1-2.

North Dakota
Dr. Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, professor in the department of plant sciences at North Dakota State University, reported on May 11 that “winter was mild in North Dakota. We had some cold temperatures–it was -30° F–but we had a good layer of snow. Overall, it didn’t look very bad.”

Bud break occurred in Fargo, N.D., on May 7, but farther west grapevines were only at bud swell. The average last frost-free date in N.D. is the end of May. Temperatures dropped to 29° F on the night of May 9, but frost damage was “hit or miss. The damage was cultivar specific,” Hatterman-Valenti said. “Frontenac and Marquette were hit harder.”

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