Central Virginia vineyards face setback after another frost event

Published: May. 11, 2020 at 6:55 PM EDT
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Just weeks after an April frost devastated central Virginia wineries, and during a time when their tasting room doors have been closed due to the coronavirus, record-low temperatures this weekend dealt another blow to those vineyards. Some report the loss of entire blocks of grapes.

At King Family Vineyards in Crozet, temperatures dropped as low as 27 degrees on Sunday morning. That shatters the record low for that day set in 1947.

“This has been the most challenging year, not just with frost, that I’ve seen personally in 20 years in Central Virginia," King Family Vineyards Manager Carrington King said.

The vineyard was forced to get creative to try to keep the grapes warm. They battled the frost in the early hours of the morning, using a mix of modern technology and the oldest tricks in the book.

“Our main block of about 30 acres, we flew a helicopter started flying about 1:30,” King said. "We did some supplemental heat in that vineyard by building fires within the rows.”

They saw their most success keeping the grapes in the main block alive. That group of vines suffered some frost damage but got away mostly unscathed. Other areas weren’t as lucky.

“The outer-lying blocks that we sort of left to left to chance, anywhere from 100% to probably 40% damage in those vineyards," King explained.

The clash against the cold raged across the region. Chris Ritzcovan, a winemaker at Jefferson Vineyards in Simeon, says they actually survived the earlier frost of the spring relatively unscathed. This time that was not the case.

“In 2016 and 2013 we had frost events where we lost about a third of our fruit," Ritzcovan explained. "This year, I think so far we’re looking at least three-quarters of our fruit, if not a little bit more.”

In an already challenging year, the promise of warm weather soon is giving winemakers hope: a sign that their feud with frost might be over for the year.

“Now, with the with the flowers and all the tissue exposed, we want a warm-up, and it to stay warm," King said.

Wineries tasting rooms with outdoor seating could re-open, with 50% capacity, as soon as Friday, under the first phase of Governor Ralph Northam’s plan to re-open the state.

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