Growing grapes and making wine is an agricultural pursuit. We would all like to work in unison with Mother Nature but sometimes she does not make it easy. Winemaking vintages usually reflect Mother Nature’s mood, whether it be drought, inundation or as in the case of this year - frost.
Spring is always a nervous time for grape growers. The vines shoot new growth from their buds. The new soft tissue shoots continue to grow as the days get warmer. But the nights remain fairly cold. Herein lays the danger. If the wind drops as the sun sets, the skies are clear and the cold air settles at ground level, the temperature might fall below 0oC. And if this happens, frost is a likely consequence. Soft, new, green grape vine shoots do not like frost. The frost freezes the water inside the tissue cells and destroys the cell structure. Within 12 hours the shoot looks ‘burnt’ – black all over and dead as a dodo. While the vine will recover, the burnt shoot will not. It can be devastating for the grape grower. It usually results in significant crop losses and higher costs of production.
The spring of 2013 has been a bad frost season. As a rule, the Orange region is not particularly frost prone. With is vineyards planted on the rolling slopes coming off Mount Canobolas, there is pretty good air drainage which keeps the cold air moving downhill. Cold air turns to frost when there is no air movement. Having said that, the Printhie vineyards have experienced their worst frosts ever. The damage at Printhie is not particularly significant but the extent of the damage is an indicator of the severity of the frost season. There are low lying vineyards on the Orange GI boundary that have been damaged as well as vineyards in the Canberra District, Hilltops, Gundagai, Riverina, Mudgee and interstate. There have been reports of damage resulting in anything from 20% to 100% crop losses.
Fortunately, the danger has now passed. For those that have suffered frost damage it is a matter of making the best of a tough season. We can be thankful that we do not have the danger of early autumn frosts – that would be a double edged sword if there ever was one.