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Sunday, May 26, 2024
NOTL vineyards survive bitter frost
This peach bloom, as seen on the morning of April 25, looks healthy despite frost that morning. NOTL stone fruit producers believe the cold weather wasn't severe enough to cause serious damage.

NOTL vineyards dodged extensive damage from the dangerous intersection of early bud break and April frost.

T.S. Eliot wrote “April is the cruellest month,” and farmers often feel its sting. April ushers in the promise of new growth, and the threat of killing frost.

Vineyards in NOTL are ahead of schedule because of some warm days in April, which making them vulnerable to a spring frost, which descended with a vengeance last week.

For two nights, temperatures dropped low enough to flirt with disaster, as the tender buds had just started to push open.

“They were really cold nights,” said Matthias Oppenlaender, a local grape grower, and chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario, adding, “it was a little scary that night.”

Not only was it very cold for two nights, but the cold lasted for an extended period of time.

“Often it’s at its worst between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m., but in some cases the wind machines had to start up at 9:30 in the evening,” said Oppenlaender. “Those were two long nights.”

“On Thursday night, it just sounded like the apocalypse. Every single windmill was running at full blast,” said Bill Redelmeier, proprietor of Southbrook Vineyards.

It was loud, but Redelemeier said he was happy to hear the fans because it meant growers were doing what they needed to.

“We escaped the worst of it, there may be some sporadic damage here and there, but nothing to really worry about,” said Oppenlaender. “Without the wind machines the damage would have been extensive.Thank god for the wind machines, the technology really helps us.”

The fans are expensive to buy, and to run. “They cost close to $75,000, and when we run them, they cost $500 each per night,” said Redelmeier. “It was a very expensive night, but better than the alternative,” explained Oppenlaender.

Early bud break is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it increases the risk of frost damage, and on the other, it’s a good headstart to the season.

“If we get by without frost damage, the early start is beneficial, it gives us a longer growing season and more time for the grapes to ripen,” said Oppenlaender.

Redelmeier is at least cautiously optimistic about the next few weeks, in part because of the biodynamic calendar he follows: “Traditionally here, the last frost is on the second full moon of spring, which was last week.”

The date for that full moon was April 23, which is earlier than most years. It can be as late as May 24, depending on the year.

“We’ve had the date of the second full moon of spring for this year written on a whiteboard since before Christmas, so we were expecting a frost this past week. And that’s what happened. So in theory, hopefully we’ll be just about finished, and we’ll be okay,” said Redelmeier.

As the tiny leaves on the vines continue to unfurl and grow into May, transforming the vineyards from their winter grey to vibrant green, it’s a waiting game on the weather.

“It could still get cold,” said Oppenlaender, adding “these extreme weather events seem to be occurring all the time now.”

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