TRAVERSE CITY — The sub-zero temperatures in February and March of 2014 caused a great deal of damage to wine grapes in the Grand Traverse region.
Now that spring has progressed and the new shoot growth of vines is underway, the full impact of the cold injury can be seen. Numerous varieties of wine grapes are grown in the region, with some that are far more sensitive to winter cold than others. Typically, European varieties (also known as vinifera grapes) such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and their close relatives have the best wine characteristics but are the most sensitive to cold temperatures. North American varieties like Concord and Niagara are very resistant to cold injury but have poor wine quality. Many hybrids of these types have been made, resulting in varieties that have good cold tolerance and acceptable wine characteristics.
Riesling and Chardonnay grapes, the mainstay white wine grapes of the Grand Traverse region, were both significantly injured by the cold. However, the portion of their buds which did survive and grow is sufficient to bear a small to medium sized crop for 2014. Other white vinifera varieties, and the primary red wine grapes in the region, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, fared far worse. In many vineyards of these varieties, there are no live shoots except for low on the vine where the snow cover protected the buds from harm. These shoots could possibly bear a small amount of fruit, but it will be in a location which cannot be easily protected from insects, rots or depredation by animals. Effectively, this is nearly a complete loss of fruit for these varieties, and it will be a devastating situation for growers and wineries that specialize in these varieties.
The hybrid varieties in our area appear to have come through in fairly good condition, with a potentially full crop of fruit for 2014. This is very important for many local wineries that produce blended wines that are not sold under specific varietal names (“generic” whites or reds).