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Iced vines

A rash of cold temperatures last weekend dealt a heavy blow to grape crops throughout southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Temperatures dipped below freezing Saturday night, wiping out plots of grape shoots in the area coaxed out of the soil by the early onset of spring this year.

“Grapes are more sensitive than other plants,” said Sam Jennings, winemaker with Cannon River Wineries. “They’re really fragile compared to fruit like cherries and apples.”

Despite cold temperature and vulnerable stage of grape growth, Jennings said the winery’s crops sustained “negligible” loss.

Jarred McCarthy, vineyard manager with Cannon River Winery, said the degree of crop damages depends on a vineyard’s location.

“Our estate vineyard, owned by the winery, is on a south-facing hill, so most of the frost on our area ran down the hill into the valleys,” he said. “We’d had a few little nips, but nothing that will affect our production.”

Other grape-growers in the area were less fortunate. John Falconer, owner of Falconer Vineyards in Red Wing, said the frost wiped out all but 5 to 10 percent of his grape crops.

“It’s probably the worst loss we’ve ever had in 19 years,” he said. “It pretty much ruined the crop this year, I’m afraid. It was just too cold for too long.”

Though Falconer will have to source grapes from other growers this year — a costly alternative to growing their own, he hopes to float the business along this year by selling “bumper crop,” which was stored up after a bountiful yield last year.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve had these wonderful days since (the frost), but the grapes are all wilted,” he said. “We’ll keep going, it’s just a shame to have such a nice, warm spring and then get hit like that.”

The tasting room and vineyard bistro at Falconer Vineyards will operate as usual this summer.

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