Friday, April 25, 2008

California wine industry worried over cold.

The headline on the San Francisco Chronicle said Shiver of Worry in Wine Country and was the front page story on the edition I saw.

California has a reputation of being warm and sunny. The year began pretty wet and cold. The rain eventually went its way but temperatures have, for the most part, remained unseasonably cool. And this cold weather is hurting the famous vineyards in northern California.

David Stiener, who grows grapes for the wine industry says: "This is the worst frost season I've seen since I started in this business in 1971." The executive director of the Sonoma Country Grape Growers Association, Nick Frey, said: "Usually, the frost mainly only affects the low-lying areas, but this year there are areas that haven't been frosted in 10, 30 years, maybe never."

In a typical year grape growers resort to frost-protection machinery only a couple of times. But this year growers have used the devices up to 30 times. Growers in traditionally warm areas don't even own frost-protection machinery. And they are suffering the worst.

Dennis De La Montanya has a vineyard in Petaluma and says that all new shoots on his vines were destroyed. If things improve the vines can bud again but with only a fraction of their normal growth. The end of April ought not be cold in California but temperatures went below freezing on three occassions in recent days. While De La Montanya's vineyards are in traditionally warm areas he has decided to invest in frost protection machiner to be prepared for future cold periods.

The Chronicle reports that grapes are a $1 billion dollar industry in the state and current estimates are that 10% of the crops have already been lost.

In Washington state the fruity industry is also suffering because of the frosts. On the other side of the continent unusual frosts are alos inflicting damage. In North Carolina the Childress Vineyards lost 80% of their crop. And while Georgia was also hit with frost farmers there think they managed to survive with minimal damage. In Arkansas late season frosts are also threatening fruit crops, a problem that hit Tennessee as well.

Even Australia, in the southern hemisphere, has a problem with frosts. While the north is suffering from late frosts the south is suffering from early frosts that caused "widespread damage to crops" in Queensland. One farmer there said that these are the earliest frosts in his lifetime. Similarly unusually cold weather is hitting farmers in India.