Friday, February 7th, 2014
It’s hard to know just how many buds and trunks have succumbed to one the harshest winters of their lifetime. Although I prefer not to entertain these thoughts – they can’t be ignored.
Pruning decisions are based on how many buds are estimated to be alive on a given vine. The only way to really calculate this number is to take a cane sample, cut open the primary buds and count how many still appear viable. This gives us a rough percentage that we can take into account when fashioning the vine for next season.
The tricky part is that each variety has a different sensitivity to extreme cold. On our farm the most sensitive varietals happen to be two of our more popular wines: Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. For this reason I get a little panicky at the prospect of little or no crop in these vineyards!
Preliminary counts don’t look great. We’ve experienced lows of -21C and most all varietals show some sign of bud mortality. Hearty varietals like Cab Sauv are in the 60-70% alive range, while the Sauv Blanc and Syrah are more in the 30-40% range…and it’s only the beginning of February.
Unfortunately, bud viability is not the only hurdle. The vascular tissue in the trunk of the vine is also susceptible to damage in these conditions. If the trunk is dead – the amount of viable buds obviously becomes a moot point. Cruelly, trunk death is usually not noticeable until the buds emerge like gangbusters only to slowly whither and die along with your false hopes.
The positive I’ve been able to take away from this winter is a greater appreciation for the wines I currently have in barrel and tank. Previous mild winters have spoiled me into taking a “full barn” for granted. Growing sensitive Vinifera grapes in Niagara should never be considered a sure bet. It will take patience and hard work, but we will recover from this winter like we did in 2004-2005.