Last week, a sudden overnight frost descended on lower elevation vineyards in Northern Virginia at the beginning of the peak growing season. And 28-degree temperatures are a vine-killer.
At Hillsborough Vineyards in Purcellville, four of 12 acres are a total loss. At Breaux Vineyards nearby, 36 of 105 acres have damaged vines.
"I called it catastrophic," says Robbie Corpora of Breaux Vineyards.
"The young shoots, they have no wood around them yet," says Kerem Baki of Hillsborough Vineyards. "They're very sensitive to the cold, so the water inside the shoot freezes. They just die."
The frost turned some shoots brown. But just below it, it can have a green one. They'll probably be able to recoup on these vines, but they just don't know how much.
Breaux Vineyards grows about 400 tons of grapes per year, enough to make about 20,000 cases of wine. This year, they might get 300 tons.
"This has a really long fallout for the wine industry," says Christopher Blosser, Breaux Vineyards General Manager. "You only have one chance per year to make what you're going to make four years from now."
"The damage is temporary," says Robbie Corpora of Breaux Vineyards. We'll be able to salvage fruit for future years, but for this year, we're certainly going to see a significant crop loss."
Winemakers say it's too early to calculate the financial loss to Virginia's $750 million wine industry. Some hope to salvage grapes from green shoots that have survived.
Many wineries say they have plenty of supply on hand for the next year or so. But this surprise killer frost will make uncertainty an ingredient for future vintages.