The 2011 - 2012 winter has been exceptionally mild in Virginia, and this has some winemakers worried. With vines already starting to leak sap and budbreak around the corner, 2012 could be a nice long growing season. The challenge is that most areas in Virginia are in danger of frost through the end of April. Frost is something that Doug Fabbioli, of Fabbioli Cellars, knows something about. I asked him about the mild winter:
My biggest fears would be early bud break and then a cold snap that freezes the green shoots. You know about my frost issues 2 years ago. The machine I purchased will work when there is air stratification or layers of cold and warm air. When a front comes in like last October and drops a couple inches of snow, there is no protection against that. We want that when it does warm up that it stays warm or at least above freezing.
Jordan Harris at Tarara is also concerned about the potential for frost:
Next is the fact that once we have sap flow and water movement like this we can expect to start seeing bud-break within two weeks. A March bud-break around here is very scary because then you can't get frost of the shoots will be killed and you lose the years crop. If we do get bud break in the next few weeks you can bet I will have some sleepless nights and Helicopters on speed dial. Sounds pricey, but so is losing 42 acres of grapes. They draw the warm air down to help raise the temperature a few degrees if you are on the border. If we get 25 degrees after bud break, then I will think about making beer this year
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about the weather, so while they are concerned they remain cautiously optimistic. Jennifer Breaux, from Breaux Vineyards, strikes a measured tone:
With the mild weather we're experiencing the vines can experience accelerated development which leads to early bud break. The young buds and shoots are left vulnerable to spring frost. Frost and dramatic temperature can lead to damage or death of the vines or at best, delay harvest. It's really a "Hurry up and wait" game at this point. We're getting a heck of a lot of work done in the vineyard in this beautiful weather so for now, we're cautiously optimistic.
Even Jordan is going to hope for he best:
That all said, this is all pessimistic thinking. We could also get an early bud break which gives potential for a longer growing season. The long term from the La Nina shows that we could have a relatively cool summer. If that is the case the extra couple weeks of growing season might be great. We could have a long cool growing season that would give great fruit and moderate alcohols and bright acid.
So in the end, am I scared, absolutely. But, I like to be optimistic and especially when there is nothing that can really be done. I don't even have to play the realist card because it won't help the end resultanyway. So bring it on!
The other cool thing about looking at long term weather is I get to act like a weather man which is the ultimate job of no accountability.