Thursday, December 4, 2014

Painfully cold: frost at work...

Sometimes, however hard you try and however much you work with nature and with the seasons, sometimes things just don’t work out as you imagine. Sometimes you are, quite simply, at the mercy of the elements.

Up towards the top of our Raupo Vineyard - mercifully frostfree
This season so far has been particularly and peculiarly tough going, with a huge water deficit across the region due to the driest July-October in 85 years, consistently high winds and a long and drawn out frost season.

Frost is the enemy of young shoots and developing flowers on the vine, and all wine producers work hard to mitigate the effects of below freezing temperatures after bud burst. To this end, they use whatever tools are at their disposal, be they frost fans, heat pots, irrigation or helicopters. Without these tools, the frost can kill the tender new growth and prevent the vine from developing properly or producing fruit. When this happens, it can be devastating, as it will not only effect the current year, but most likely the following one also. It is a bitter pill swallow.

Frost burned vines
Our policy of pruning late usually ensures we miss the damage that can be caused by early frost events, and a combination of valerian tea, frost fans and helicopters had meant that we had avoided too much damage during most of the cold periods this season. However, sadly a vicious and completely unforecast frost hit our Raupo vineyard in the Omaka Valley on the morning of 20th November and has left us facing a scene of partial devastation. Once flourishing and growing vines have been left stunted and browned (frost-burned) across large swathes of the vineyard, creating a visible pattern of destruction that exactly maps the movement of the cold air across the land during that night. It is quite a sight to behold.

 Happily around 50% of the vineyard is unaffected, either due to the angles of the slopes where the vines are planted or indeed because parts are protected by frost fans – and mercifully this includes our best Pinot and Chardonnay sites. Naturally we would love the whole vineyard to be protected, but alas at $55K per frost fan, they are not an easy thing to budget for in harder times and since the GFC, cost savings have been part and parcel of business for everyone in the wine industry.

It is a painful thing to look at so many vines in such an unhappy condition, but we remain philosophical. There was nothing we could really have done to avoid this situation, and so we have to just have to move on. While we know that the majority of the damaged vines will not now produce fruit for the 2015 vintage, we will be working hard with the vine nonetheless, shoot thinning, re-pruning and managing them carefully to ensure that there is as little impact on their fruitfulness in 2016 as possible.

 “Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again” – Dorothy Fields

Looking down from the hill. That brown area in the middle distance is not supposed to be brown. 

Frost burned vines - close up

An unhappy sight

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