GASPEREAU, NS - Grape producers and winery operators are feeling a bit frosted by Mother Nature but it’s no laughing matter.
Benjamin Bridge Winery founder and owner Gerry McConnell said that damage in his Gaspereau vineyard from a frost that occurred overnight June 3 to 4 is significant.
He said that, for grape producers, the frost represents a very serious and significant environmental event that was quite pervasive across Nova Scotia. It’s very difficult to estimate the impact on grape yield, wine production or the financial impact at this point. McConnell said there are varied reports from vineyards across the province.
“We get comments from growers or wineries that are pretty dire saying that it’s devastating, I’m wiped out, all the way to other wineries that are saying that the damage is negligible,” McConnell said.
At Benjamin Bridge, they’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see how the vines are going to react. He said on June 5 that the vines are pretty much in shock and they aren’t going to respond until we get some warmer weather. They’ll be better able to assess potential remedial actions after that.
He said everyone was in high spirits coming out of a rather mild winter and into the spring as there was good bud break. Everything was “going along swimmingly” until Mother Nature decided to intervene, damaging the primary buds with frost.
After the vines have a chance to react to some warmer weather, various vineyards and wineries will be able to determine how secondary buds are performing. McConnell said that with secondary buds, you could anticipate getting 50 to 60 per cent of the grape yield you would have realized from the primary buds.
“To calculate that is going to take a little bit of time,” he said.
McConnell invited grape producers and winery representatives to his Gaspereau facility for a meeting on June 6. He said everyone is a bit shocked and confused because they’ve never experienced a situation like this before.
He thought it would be a good idea to get everyone together to compare notes and consider possible remedial actions that they might be able to take over the course of the coming days, such as foliar sprays, for example. He said the producers responded to the invitation very quickly and there was a strong turnout.
“I think we’re all searching for answers as to how we can come out of this as good as we possibly can,” he said.
Environment Canada issued a frost advisory for Kings County on June 6, as temperatures could again dip below the freezing point during the overnight hours. When asked what he is doing to prepare for the possibility, McConnell said he is “playing a mental game that any forecast for a hard, killer frost is wrong.”
He said he looked into having a helicopter provide some overhead frost protection for his Gaspereau vineyard, which is about 35 acres in size, but there are restrictions against flying at night for the type of helicopter he was considering.
Benjamin Bridge has another 10-acre vineyard in the Canning area where McConnell said they may have to light fires to help keep warm air flowing to protect the vines. This vineyard was not damaged as heavily by the frost overnight from June 3 to 4. He said he isn’t considering lighting fires at the Gaspereau vineyard because the damage there is already extensive.
Apples and blueberries
Andrew Bishop, CEO of Noggins Corner Farm in Greenwich, said it’s too soon to tell what the exact impact of the frost will be on his apple trees.
“I can’t find any damage in my orchards but it did get cold,” Bishop said. “It may show up in different ways, I’m not sure at this moment.”
Kathryn Himsl, who co-owns Seville Centreville Farms with her husband, Ed, said they didn’t incur any damage to their high bush blueberry plants. However, unfortunately, not all crop growers were as lucky as they were.
“High bush (blueberries) are indigenous here to Nova Scotia, so they’re very hardy,” Himsl said. “It would have to be a much more severe frost for us to be affected.”