Monday, January 24, 2011

The Lasting Concerns of Winemaking on the Edge

Full disclosure, I am not the person at Fox Run most qualified to speak about the following topic.  That person would be John Kaiser, our fantastic vineyard manager, who I also hope will contribute some blog posts in the future about the crucially important and often publicly overlooked work he is responsible for.  Nevertheless, the arctic air mass that settled over us this weekend and through tomorrow is what prompts the conversation and posting today.

By some accounts, the air over us and that radiational cooling last night represent the coldest temperatures this area has seen in five years or more.  No doubt these are dangerous temperatures, it does not take more than a few minutes outside for exposed skin to be frostbit, but for most of us it would be an exaggeration to say that it is much more than an inconvenience.  Here at Fox Run, however, we are talking about the weather and cold in far more serious terms - as is so often the case in an agricultural enterprise.

In the vineyard it is not just a question of how the low temperature will impact production for the 2011 vintage (a topic for another post entirely), but how the cold will immediately damage vines.  The real concern with low temperatures like those we have been dealing with is vine death, as lost vines become a mounting issue when the temperature drops below -5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Thus, where for most people this cold snap is bothersome for a few days and will be forgot with the next storm, in the vineyard temperatures this low are a serious concern into and beyond the spring.

Needless to say, we follow the forecast and temperature very closely this time of year when arctic air like this is descending on the region.  After emailing Peter midweek about the low temperatures predicted for this past weekend, I asked the same question many of you are probably thinking, "Can anything be done?"  The long and short of it is, frankly, no.  In some densely planted wine regions of the world, they use fire pits or even helicopters during harvest time to change the temperature by a few degrees to stave off an early-frost.  But when it comes to temperatures this cold, there is no real template and the heat would dissipate absurdly quickly.  This is truly winemaking on the edge.

Here at Fox Run we are fortunate to have some snow that will act as insulation against the worst of the cold, and also have hope that the brief cold snap two weeks ago completely shut down the vines so they are less vulnerable now.  Beyond this, however, Peter suggested praying to the deity of my choice as the only defense we have.  So the next time you are at Fox Run or elsewhere around the Finger Lakes for a visit and to see vineyards, take a look at some of the areas that are unplanted and bare of vine.  More likely than not, you're looking at a hollow where cold air gets trapped and settles during the nights.

By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

Music of the Day:
  • LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem; "Losing My Edge" (one of the most important, influential, and hilarious songs of the 00s for exposing the joys and troubles of the new music/information world the internet brought to listeners and hipsters):

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