Report from the Trenches

hands pruning the grapevine in the vineyard

I am told there are pictures, but I am not biting.

I have no desire to see any image of myself taken before lunchtime, no less those shot at 5:30am this morning amid the smoke and chill of the vineyard. Still they provide a record of an April battle that sometimes needs to be mounted in NC wine country: a duel with the sudden onset of a spring frost.

I have been down these rows before, of course, with a purpose dependent upon the season of the year. There is nurturing, pruning, spraying, and coaxing to be done to the vines as they come out of dormancy and into spring bud break, and then to be undertaken all over again during the summer growing season. The trick is to get that far. Looks like Mother Nature has thrown us a curve again this year, and other than our early morning efforts a few hours ago, there is little we can do but cross our fingers, and duck.

So despite predictions that the air was too dry in Alamance County for a frost, somewhere around 5am this morning that is exactly what happened. My husband Gene and I could almost watch the white blanket materialize over the vineyard and the adjacent fields, he from his position at the over-sized bonfire we had roaring, fuel courtesy our March ice storm, and me from behind the wheel of my tractor. I had an air blast sprayer going with a high-velocity fan on it, and was driving up and down the rows to keep the air stirred up. Smoke and air circulation are key, as they both keep the air from setting up, cold and undisturbed, on the vines. Since the coldest time of night, every night, is an hour or so before dawn, that’s when we needed to be smack in the vineyard manning our stations. And so we were.

It is fortunate that thanks to the extremely cold winter we have just come through, our shoots are not as far up and advanced as they have been during past springs. I remember that in 2012 our mild winter gave us 6 inches of growth by early April, so that when we got zapped by back to back killer frosts, on April 6th and 20th, to be exact, we lost our entire crop. The primary bud was taken with the first frost, the secondary bud in the second. I don’t have to close my eyes to still see the crumpled black and withered leaves that that double whammy left behind. Sometimes a random act of nature feels downright cruel. (T.S. Eliot can also speak for farmers…).

So cross those fingers, folks. I may be yawning for a few days, and some less than flattering photos may have to be rounded up and destroyed, but a primo crop of grapes not only makes for wonderful wines, it makes up for most any amount of lost beauty sleep.

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