Subzero Blast Presses Northeast Ohio Vineyards

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With frigid temperatures reaching intensely low levels at times, northeast Ohio’s wineries were worried about whether or not their grapes would survive the wrath of the polar vortex.

“There’s the potential to lose about 3 million dollars,” says Doniella Winchell of the Ohio Wine Producers Association. She says member’s vineyards collectively take up 1,200 acres along the south shore of Lake Erie. More than half of those use vinifera grapes. Winchell says these are ideal for Rieslings and chardonnays, but not for surviving deep freezes.

“In the middle of the night as you walk through a vineyard, when it’s 10,12, 15 below zero, the cell structures…the liquid that remains in the vines from the prior season, will begin expanding and exploding," she says.

"And it sounds almost as if you’re walking through a bowl of Rice Krispies, there’s literally a `snap, crackle, pop’”.

Nick Ferrante of Ferrante Winery in Geneva says it was -12 with winds up to 25 miles per hour at his vineyards last week. Special machines designed to pull warm air down over the vines were rendered useless.

“We’re estimating at least 50 percent or higher of the buds would have been killed," says Ferrante.

"The good thing is, we had a big crop – this past vintage 2013 -- so we have a lot of wine in our tanks and in our barrels, so that’s a positive thing.”

The Ohio Wine Producers Association says many other growers had bountiful harvests in the previous year, which should help wineries. And while there will be some loss of product, that buildup should help prevent price markups.

The full extent of damage to grape vines will be better measured come spring.

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