The unusually warm February temperatures are threatening vines at mid-Missouri wineries.
Jon Held, President of the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, said he’s concerned his yield could suffer.
“We could lose a portion of the crop and potentially a great deal of it,” Held said. “There’s really nothing we can do to change that, it’s basically, whatever the good lord gives us, we’ve got to deal with it.”
KOMU 8 Meteorologist Tori Stepanek said the warm temperatures are nothing new.
“February is usually the first month that we’ll see 70 degree days,” she said. She noted, however, that this month saw a record seven days of 70 degrees or higher.
Laszlo Kovacs, adjunct professor at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, said the warm temperatures could “trick” the vines into thinking it’s spring. When that happens, water collects in the vine, which is bad news if the weather gets to cold again.
“What happens in cold temperature, if the water content is too high in those tissues, ice crystals will form and they will damage the cells,” he said. “The cells will die and then the bud, the entire bud, can die.”
Held said he’s not all that worried because he has back-ups. If he loses a significant portion of his crop, Stone Hill would have to dip into its extra inventory.
“We’ll overproduce in large harvest years,” he said. “We like to have a little buffer.”
If that’s not enough, his winery would have to import grapes from outside mid-Missouri.
“If it’s something like concord, either Arkansas, Michigan or the Northeast, New York area,” he said.
The winery hasn’t had to import grapes to supplement harvest since 2007, according to Held.
“We try not to do that, because we kind of hang our hat on the fact that we’re a regional winery,” Held said.
The concern now is the potential of a freeze. Stepanek said she doesn’t expect to see a deep freeze any time soon, but the cool temperatures could return as soon as Friday night, with a low near 26 degrees.
Kovacs said if the mercury gets too low, there are consequences.
“If the cold weather returns, they’ll have a problem,” Kovacs said. “If they really don’t have varieties that would tolerate that, they could lose a lot of their potential crop.”
Held said the process to ensure his winery can survive sometimes-unpredictable growing seasons involves a lot of science, technology, and constant monitoring.
“It’s really, you know, a far cry from the romantic concept of the vigneron out in his vineyard with the pruning sheers,” he said.
He hopes the weather cooperates, but if not, Held said he’s ready to navigate the consequences.