Bay Area Wine Makers Look Out For Frost

The critical time for winemakers and frost is now.

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012  |  Updated 2:04 AM PDT
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Wine-makers take precautions during frost season.

Wine-makers take precautions during frost season.

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Bay Area winemakers have endured an array of weather challenges over the last year: a cool summer, early rains, lack of rain and now warm temperatures that have brought some vineyards prematurely to life.

Livermore winemakers said signs of life among the vines are not necessarily a good thing, since early March also brings the possibility of frost.

“The critical time for us with frost is now,” said Mark Clarin, winemaker at McGrail Vineyards in Livermore. “For the next four or five weeks we’re going to pray to the warming gods.”

Clarin pointed to a vine where water had begun to seep from a fresh cutting. He said it was the first sign of awakening within the dormant vines. He said sprouting buds would soon follow.

“There is a danger as the vine comes back to life and starts pushing shoots,” said Clarin, who has worked as a winemaker for more than 30 years. “If we get a hard frost, it could damage the vine and reduce our yields.”

Clarin said Livermore has it a little easier than vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties, where frost is more frequent. Vineyard managers in those areas will employ massive fans to combat the frost on the vines. Livermore winemakers have the benefit of valley winds to confront frost, as well as a few other tricks.

“It sounds crazy, but we actually water the grapes,” said Jim Ryan, estate manager of Concannon Vineyards. “It forms a little ice crystal igloo on top of the clusters… and keeps them from freezing.”

Clarin said at the moment, he’s more worried about the lack of rain than about the potential for frost. He's had to resort to irrigation to make up for mother nature's dry spell.

In the meantime, he plans to ask the warmth gods for a little rain on the side.

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