As a South African and a professional grape grower, learning about the grape vine each day, is my passion. Therefore I’ve done some research on growing grapes in cold climates, something we, here in South Africa, has little problem with. The only time our vines get cold damage is when there is heavy frost early in spring, after the vines sprouted.

Growing grapes in mild and very cold climates do not differ as much as growing grapes in the tropics, and the pruning methods, training methods we use here in South Africa, are used in very cold climate conditions as well.

However, there are a few things a grape grower must consider or think of, before planting grapes in these very cold conditions.

I will be touching on some cold resistant wine varieties and also what the grapes growers do to protect the grape vines.

What Great Wines are Produced in Cold Climates?

The Grape varieties I am going to talk about are hardy to at least -20F/-28C. The various types include Red, White and Table or Juice Grapes. I will list some of the most popular kinds in each group. The first group is the Red Wines that include such varieties as the Baltica, Landot Noir, Savrevois, St. Croix and Swenson Red. Next we will cover the White Wines. Some of the grapes that are in this group include Alpenglow, Brianna, Edelweiss, Frontenac Gris, LaCrosse, LaCrescent, Prairie Star, Swenson White and Vignoles. As for the final category, which is the Table or Juice variety, they include the Bluebell, King of the North, Reliance, Somerset Seedless, Toldi, Trollhaugen and the Valiant grapes.

What is the main concern with cold weather varieties?

Damage to the crop. We will be taking a quick look at how to notice the most prominent damage to the crop when a frost or freeze has penetrated it. In one case, in Southwest Michigan in 2002, over 95% of the crop that was to produce had most primary growth destroyed by the frost.

But before we move on, lets look at the grape bud. A grape bud, is actually three buds. A primary, secondary and tertiary bud. When the primary shoot, or the bud itself is killed by frost or freeze, the secondary bud will sprout. Secondary and tertiary buds, produce less grapes, and grapes of lower quility, but at least the grapes in 2002 (mentioned aboce) produced some grapes, so the grape growers didn’t have a total crop loss.

Cold damage on buds appears dry and shrunken. After awhile, they will crunch when you pinch them with your fingers. Injury to the plant may also include the vascular tissues of canes, cordons and trunks. In some cases, it may even kill the whole vine. That is what happens when a plant has frost hit it. What happens when a freeze hits the plant or grapes? When a plant is hit by a freeze, you will be able to pick it out clearly. The grapes physical body will look water logged and black. It doesn’t have to be dark black to show signs of the damage.

How does a farmer protect from these conditions?

Location, location, location. That’s what they say about business, movies and networking with people. Well, the same seems to be true for the grape crop and protecting it from the elements.
The types of soil used, the slope of the land and even the drainage all have to be taken into consideration when you decide on how to protect your vineyard in down seasons.
The secondary process is finding a suitable covering to protect your plants. In tests, they have found that good old fashion snow cover and geotextile fabrics worked just fine.

They found that if you use soil to cover the grape vine, will protect the vine from cold damage, but it’s not always possible to remove the whole vine from the trellsi it actually helps to breed more disease and inhibits the following seasons production levels.

It seems that geotextile fabrics work best for tender and semi-hardy varieties. They found that snow cover is best where there is a vine without protection and when pinning half of the canes to the ground. This method is most effective in areas that have good drainage and have a southernly slope to the land.

You should probably use geotextile fabrics for any other produce. Just remove them from the trellis if possible, lay them flat on the ground and use the fabric to cover them for the off season.
Covering the grape vine, will not 100% prevent cold damage, but at least there is a chance you vine will survive and you will have grapes to harvest the year to come.

“The Grape Guy”

Autor of the Complete Grape Growers Guide – a step by step guide, how to grow grapes.

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