Fall Creek Vineyards: The Impact of Frigid Weather on Our Vineyards
By Sergio Cuadra, Director of Winemaking
It is Thursday, February 18th. As I type, snowflakes fall in Austin, TX. This is the sixth consecutive day that temperature highs have not risen above freezing. We’re in the midst of record-setting frigid temperatures and a winter storm coating the area first with a layer of ice, followed by six inches of snow, and then again sheathed in inches of ice. The storm has introduced many difficulties to Texas this week.
Power outages. No heat. No phone service. Water outages and shortages. Frozen and burst water pipes flooding homes. COLD! These some of the many problems that we are dealing with over this last week in Texas.
The good news is that this unwelcomed cold visitor is finally about to leave our area. We expect to return to seasonally more moderate temperatures this weekend. The sunny thaw comes at a great time for people to put this difficult week behind them and relax in our Fall Creek Vineyards tasting room in Driftwood, Texas.
Note: So far, Fall Creek Vineyards Driftwood has had power this week, although our founders, the Aulers have not had any power in their West Austin home since Monday. So, visitors will very likely see the Aulers at FCV Driftwood welcoming friends to the warmth of the winery. Fall Creek Vineyards Tow still is without power, so we are not sure when that location will be open to visitors.
Impact Of the Freeze on Our Vineyards
The storm certainly exacted a big impact on people. But what about our vineyards? What can we expect the implications will be for the 2021 harvest? We know that grapevines are sensitive to freezing temperatures during the growing season, and spring frost frequently damages opening buds and young shoots decimating crops in Texas during some years. Thankfully, the icy temperatures came while grapevines in our Estate Oxbow Vineyard, and other Texas vineyards, are still dormant. Grapevines are naturally ready for freezing temperatures while in dormancy. Mature grapevines may withstand low temperatures up to -20 degrees F, which is colder than we experienced. In fact, grapevines have a sort of “cold hours counter” that prevents them from beginning new growth with bud break at the first warm wave in the middle of the winter. Grapevines need a certain amount of cold hours, or prolonged dormancy and delayed bud break can occur.
Regardless of the number of cold hours our vines experienced before this week, I’m sure they now have weathered enough cold hours…for the entire season. Because plant growth regulators occur inside each bud, we expect a result of this cold snap is actually a blessing for our vines resulting in an even bud-break. That means we anticipate all buds emerging uniformly at the same time. An even beginning leads to even growth, and even ripening of the grapes. While it is way too soon to tell what the complete impact of this storm will be on our 2021 harvest, we believe our vineyards are off to a good start.
Another positive effect that may result from these very cold temperatures — according to a brother of mine that lived where negative Fahrenheit temperatures are the norm during the winter — is that the soils that have been frozen deeper than usual, become fluffier, lighter, easy to till, and better oxygenated. These changes to the soil occur after a deep freeze, due to the expanding ice that then leaves new empty spaces as it thaws. This is music to the ears of the vine’s root system.
Every cloud has a silver lining! While there is a lot to be seen in the coming weeks, and winter is far from over, there are good chances for this weather to have positive effects. Stay warm and stay tuned for this interesting grape-growing season!