Cold damage at Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center vineyard. In the front: cold sensitive Syrah (V. vinifera L.) vine killed back to the ground. In the back: Healthy cold hardy Marquette (Vitis spp.) vines.
I imagine as winter approaches one thought on every grower's mind is: "Is this winter going to be anything like the previous one?"
The winter of 2013/2014 was one of the most severe since 1994 and we can hope another 20 years or more pass before we must endure another of the same magnitude. The extent of damage and crop loss varied among regions, individual vineyard sites, wine grape varieties and the health of the vines going into the cold season.
During a vineyard visit in Chester County (Southeast Pennsylvania) in August, a grower pointed out a block of Cabernet Franc (Vitis vinifera L.) vines with winter cold injury symptoms. The vines had a healthy green canopy but, surprisingly, no clusters. That was unusual because other Cabernet Franc vines in the area were fine. However, the grower highlighted that those vines had already experienced severe frost damage the previous spring (2013). Frost damage may contribute to a low overwinter carbohydrate reserve and negatively affect bud cold hardiness as well as the development of shoots and inflorescences in the following spring. Concentrations of non-structural carbohydrates are closely related with cold hardiness in grapevine buds and canes .
Effect of delaying fruit harvest for ice wine production
A recent 5-year study conducted in Ohio reported that neither crop level (16 vs 32 clusters per hedgerow meter) or harvest date (beginning of October vs middle of December) had an impact on winter bud cold-hardiness in 'Vidal blanc' vines . This is very good news for growers. However, as the authors suggested, the effect of crop level on cold hardiness may depend on the variety  and its vegetative and reproductive characteristics (i.e., tendency for excessive vigor and/or over-cropping).
Ongoing research at Penn State is being conducted to assess the impact of crop load management practices on bud cold acclimation, de-acclimation, and maximum cold hardiness, as well as carbohydrate reserve storage. We plan on highlighting these developments as results are determined over the next few years.
Assessing cold injury in grapevine and managing cold injured vines
After budbreak, when the extent of the damage started to become more clear, many growers wondered how to assess the extent of the damage and what the best practices were for rapid vine recovery. Our grape and wine team at Penn State put together a list of resources to help growers during this difficult growing season. Here are some of those resources:
You can start reading the article published on eXtension Cold Injury in Grapevine by Mark Chien, former Penn State Viticulture Extension educator and now Program Coordinator, Oregon Wine Research Institute, and Michelle Moyer, assistant professor at Washington State University. At the end of the article you will find a comprehensive list of recommended resources that can be used to assess and manage cold damage in the vineyard.
Among these resources I would like to highlight:
Other resources that you may find useful are:
What did we learn?
The severe cold winter provided a good opportunity to evaluate the cold hardiness of Vitis vinifera and inter-specific hybrid wine grape varieties at the two variety evaluation plantings established in Pennsylvania (PA) in 2008, as part of the NE1020 multistate project. The two plantings are located at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC, Northwest Pennsylvania) and at the Fruit Research and Extension Center (FREC) in South-central PA. For more information about the NE-1020 trial please refer to the article "NE-1020, What? The Top 5 Industry Benefits Affiliated with the NE-1020 Variety Trial" by Denise Gardner.
At the LERGREC station all the V. vinifera varieties experienced extensive winter injury. High incidence of vine mortality was recorded in Syrah, and Muscat Ottonel; trunk injury was mostly observed in Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio. Among the V. vinifera varieties, Cabernet Franc and Grüner Veltilner vines are recovering the best; healthy suckers are growing from above the graft union and they will be used for trunk renewal next spring. For information regarding the level of bud injury observed on the 17 grapevine varieties established at the LERGREC site please refer to the article "Grape Growing in PA In Spite of the Weather" by B. Hed and M. Centinari
As expected, lower levels of winter injury were recorded at the FREC station in South-central Pennsylvania. The most significant winter injury was observed in Tannat (almost 100% vine mortality). Some of the other varieties experienced cold damage, limited primarily to primary buds. Although, some of the Syrah and Malbec vines suffered conductive tissue damage (phloem and xylem) and collapsed during the summer.
As a consequence of primary bud damage some of the V. vinifera varieties produced low crop yield. Specifically, average yields of Malbec, Albarino and Cabernet Sauvignon were much lower than those of the previous season. Cluster number per vine in Sangiovese and Viognier were lower than usual. Data such as "percent live buds per total buds left (% live buds/total buds)" and "shoot number per vine" were also recorded. This will provide a comprehensive picture of the differences among the genotypes and their ability to adapt to extreme environmental conditions such as the cold temperatures we experienced in the winter of 2014.
- Jones, K.S., J. Paroschy, B.D. McKersie, and S.R. Bowley (1999). Carbohydrate composition and freezing tolerance of canes and buds in Vitis vinifera. J. Plant Physiol. 155:101-106.
- Dami I.E., S. Ennahli, and D. Scurlock (2013). A Five-year Study on the Effect of Cluster Thinning and Harvest Date on Yield, Fruit Composition, and Cold-hardiness of 'Vidal Blanc' (Vitis spp.) for Ice Wine Production. HortScience 48(11):1358-1362.
- Dami, I.E., D.C. Ferree, S.K. Kurtural, and B.H. Taylor (2005). Influence of cropload on 'Chambourcin' yield, fruit quality, and winter hardiness under midwestern United States environmental conditions. Acta Hort. 689: 203-208.