Cold snap damages wine country vineyards

April 28, 2008 9:59:03 AM PDT
Frost in the wine country could end up costing grape growers tens of millions of dollars. It's been just cold enough to be devastating.

One grape grower said it's been the worst spring frost they've seen in the past 30 years. Some chardonnay and pinot grape growers say they lost anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of their early crops to the frost.

Grower Dennis De La Montaya lost all of his early growth pinot stock, and now he hopes that's the worst of it.

De La Montanya is checking the vines on his 52-acre vineyard. He has avoided visiting it since the frost hit.

He says seeing the brown shriveled fruit saddens him.

"At the best scenario we lost 50 percent, which translates to a lot of money, about $250,000," said De La Montanya.

Pinot grape berries were freeze dried and destroyed by temperatures that fell into the 20's this past week.

Usually by this time in April, frost worries are all but gone. This season saw freezing temperatures for 13 days in late March and early April throughout Napa and Mendocino counties as well.

"So these shoots should produce some fruit," said Montanya.

Now Montanya is counting on his second sprouting. A reddish green bud on the base of the vines means that there will be a new shoot soon but no one knows how much fruit this second bloom will produce.

"It's hard to predict how we will end up this season," said Nick Fry from the Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission.

Nick Fry is with the Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission, which represents more than 1,800 vineyards and growers in Sonoma and Marin Counties. He says the counties have been hard hit but the frost damage in dollars is still hard to determine.

"We don't know if it's two percent or 10 percent," said Fry.

"What do two percent and 10 percent represent in dollars?" asked ABC7's Tomas Roman.

"Two percent will be $8 million and 10 percent would be over $40 million," said Fry.

"The number of calls I've received is unprecedented and I've been doing this for over 10 years," said Chris Maloney from CROP Insurance Services.

Chris Maloney is the insurance agent for more than 450 Sonoma County vineyards. She showed ABC7 News a pile of insurance claims from more than half of her clients who have been affected by the frost.

"We've had people say they think they lost 80 to 90 percent," said Maloney.

Growers are concerned that the affected chardonnay and pinot grapes will be in short supply by harvest time. That creates another problem, because any wine label that has Sonoma on it, has to have 75 percent of its grapes come from the county.

The reason growers don't know exactly what the economic impact of the frost will be, is that they gage their output of grapes by ton.

They won't know how many tons of grapes they'll have until harvest time. Also, they also say that the price of wine may likely not be affected.


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