Late frost plays havoc with vineyards

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Spring snowstorms have left some Queenstown grape growers battling to salvage this season’s crop. 

Vine shoots at several vineyards on higher ground in the Gibbston valley were damaged by frost following Friday’s cold snap. 

This afternoon (Monday) workers began pruning icy dead shoots in the hope that unaffected buds behind would replace them. 

But that operation will push the harvest back two weeks, into the frost window at the end of the season. 

Winery owners now face an anxious wait to see whether what will be a half crop will be usable. 

Viticulturist Gary Crabbe oversees seven vineyards in the valley including Mount Rosa and Two Paddocks. 

“Several of the vineyards we look after have been severely frosted,” he says. 

“In others there is partial damage and in two nothing at all. 

“It was a very strange frost because the majority of the damage was done at higher elevation. 

“In November 2003 there was a bad one, but the growing season was much more advanced and there was no hope of bringing them back. This year it might be just early enough to salvage something from the season. 

“It is certainly the oddest night I’ve spent here in 12 years, to see icy winds and snow all night. 

“It was just really difficult for the poor little strugglers. They were at a stage where they’re very susceptible to frost.” 

Many of the valley’s vineyard blocks are protected by automated ‘frost’ wind machines and so were protected against the worst of the weather. 

The cold front saw up to 12cm of snow fall on The Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields. 

Bob’s Peak, other hills and the town itself also received a dusting. 

“We’re immediately removing the larger frosted buds,” Crabbe says. 

“My philosophy is you have to be very aggressive, very early, do your best for your clients and hope for the best. 

“The real telling time will be at flowering to see how those flowers evolve into fruit and how fruitful they are and also at the end of the season.” 

And Chard Farm Winery viticulturist Michelle Crawford says there could still be further frosts. 

“The snow has basically gone and that reduces our risk dramatically,” she says. 

“But it’s Otago, so we can get frosts in December. And it’s the full moon coming up which is usually the coldest time of the month.”