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Harsh Winter Destroys Most of State’s Wine Grapes

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With the harsh winter over, Ohio’s growers of wine grapes are taking stock of the damage. A state survey indicates it was one of the worst on record. Ideastream’s Joanna Richards reports.

Monday, April 14, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Some loss each winter is normal, especially for vinifera grape varieties.

Those are the European grapes used to make to make the most popular wines, like Chardonnay and Riesling. But they’re also the varieties most sensitive to cold, since they’re best adapted to the Mediterranean climate. Losses of those types of grapes this year have been huge.

"Almost 98 percent damage," said Imed Dami, the state viticulturist, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. He says more cold-hardy grapes were also hit hard. "With the hybrids, close to 60 percent, and then the American grapes, close to 30 percent damage."

Several factors combined this winter to kill wine grapes. Periods of extreme cold lasted longer, and there were more of them. And after many years without severe winters, farmers didn’t build protective mounds around the trunks.

Dami says fluctuations in temperature – like we’re seeing again this week – also have been a problem.

"It almost kind of tricks the plant that the spring is around, and it’s not. Because the plants are already ready to grow again," he said.

It will still be awhile before the full extent of the damage is clear. Growers know now if their buds are dead, but won’t know til later into the spring if whole vines have died.
While Ohio’s wine industry is a small fraction of the economy, it has shown some growth lately with nearly 200 wineries now operating in the state, mostly in the Lake Erie region.