Some local vintners are closely watching their vines as temperatures drop to below freezing tonight, Monday and Tuesday, even though they last week’s snow and cooler temperatures did not spell trouble for local wineries.
“Our hope is that this cold snap is going to signal to the plants that hey, we’re not there yet. Go ahead and chill out,” George Hodson, the general manager at Veritas Winery, told The Daily Progress.
There’s a lot on the vines to be concerned about. Virginia is the 10th-largest producer of wine in the entire United States and the second largest on the East Coast after New York, according to 2022 data from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Those same figures show the commonwealth produced 2.2 million gallons of wine last year.
Much of that comes from the Charlottesville region, known as the Monticello American Viticultural Area. The Monticello AVA makes up more than half of Virginia’s 2,000 vineyard acres and is home to roughly 30 wineries, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
The grapes at wineries in the Charlottesville area may differ in what part of the growth cycle they’re in, but at Valley Road Vineyards and Veritas Winery, the buds on the vines haven’t broken yet.
Instead, the vines are in the “bud swell” phase, when the plants start actively growing again after pausing during the winter. Bud break usually happens in mid-April.
The grapes don’t get harvested until sometime between August and October. Before that, the plant needs to emerge from a dormant period. Then, during a stage called fruit set, small clusters of green grapes emerge. Veraison, or changing of color of the grape berries as they ripen, occurs during late summer.
“Ideally, we’ll harvest when the chemistry on the fruit is where we’d like it to be. But realistically we harvest when kind of when the weather forces us to,” Hodson said.
Though the timing of the chilly weather worked out for Veritas, Valley Road’s vines may get hurt.
“If it hadn’t been for all the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had, this cold snap would be a little moment,” Valley Road Vineyards CEO Stan Joynes told The Daily Progress. Still, Joynes said he was optimistic.
Because it has been such a warm winter—Charlottesville got a fifth of an inch of snow this winter, according to the McCormick Observatory—the vines at Valley Road are closer to bud break this year.
“A couple of days of beautiful sunshine, maybe a little bit warmer weather, could cause bud break,” Joynes said.
That could be a problem heading into Monday and Tuesday, with overnight lows in the 20s.
“We’re worried about that freezing the buds,” Joynes said.
Hodson said he wasn’t worried about the buds at Veritas freezing, but if the buds did freeze, it would be devastating.
“We’d be screwed,” Hodson said. “All of those buds would effectively be killed.”
Joynes said he was hopeful that, barring more bad weather, the growing season could be a good one.
“The fact that we had such a mild winter and growth started earlier than normal might mean that we just have a wonderful, plentiful growing season,” Joynes said.