No vineyard damage yet

Mark Twain once quipped, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Apparently the same can be said about any spring frost damage to the Indiana grape crop. One of the Indianapolis station reported earlier this month possible damage in Indiana Vineyards.

Considering much of the Hoosier state had several below-average temperature weeks in mid-March and very early April, the possibility seemed real.

Hoosier vineyard owners have suffered late frost damage in recent seasons. The cost and the impact of losing fruit is significant.

But it turns out that TV station had not done a lot of reporting.

“I don’t know where they got the information,” said Purdue agricultural extension specialist Bruce Bordelon. The grape and fruit expert is the authoritative source on Indiana vineyards.

“Purdue did a press release a week or so ago about a newsletter I wrote. I suppose it’s still floating around. Or maybe they talked to local growers. We were very early in March (with bud break) and that had all fruit growers concerned.”

But the cool weather in mid-April proved to be a good thing, Bordelon explained. “The cooler temperatures slowed development, especially in grapes. Peaches are well ahead of normal and apples are all over the place from early to late. It’s a weird year. I suspect if there was any damage it is in the southern one-third of the state. Some areas there got into the mid-20s and they were further ahead so some damage is likely. But with many crops, some damage to buds or flowers does not mean reduced yields.”

Now, and I’m sure Dr. Bordelon would agree, it’s not to say that some vineyards might not have had spot damage.

Oliver Winery’s Creekbend vineyard lost about 30 percent of its vines just a couple of years ago. Bernie Parker, vineyard manager, for Bill Oliver’s operation confirmed it got cold but believes his vines survived.

“We had temps down to 23 degrees on the morning of April 5,” Parker said. “Only one variety was at full bud swell (showing some green/pink but no leaves unfolding.)  The few that were extended the farthest got a little burn on the outside, but I didn’t find any that were dead.  The cooler temperatures the last two weeks of March and beginning of April helped to slowdown bud break enough to get through the freezes.”

Oliver is one of the two biggest vineyards in the state. It’s also one of very few vineyards with equipment designed to fight frost.

“We have had seven nights this month alone that temperatures got down to below 30 degrees. We won’t know for sure (about any damage) until the vines start budding out completely. It’s a waiting game, and hope the worst is behind us.”

The cautious approach is always best but it appears Indiana wine grapes didn’t suffer the damage of two years ago. Maybe another Mark Twain quote is appropriate, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, Indiana, writes about wine every other week for more than 20 Midwestern newspapers. Reach him at: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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