May vineyard update: silent death

There have always been late frost nights in the history of farming destroying more or less of the growing harvest. The only thing people could think of in the very past was to dedicate the last dangerous days in the middle of May (11th – 15th) to a couple of saints so they can offer protection. We call them the “Eisheiligen”, the ice saints. The morning of the 12th it would have been good old Pankraz job to take care of the icy winds blowing through the dripping wet vineyards. Maybe he had a glass too much the night before and failed to do his duty. Water became ice. Checking the temperature in the morning in our yard I saw it being around the freezing point and I knew something bad had happened.

We started working in the Fledermaus vineyard and as the sun started warming up the plants we could watch the tips of the bigger shoots hanging down. It took the whole day though to reveal the full disaster as everything green started turning brown. I took the car and made a little tour. Vineyard after vineyard the same picture. Tears came to my eyes and thank god nobody heard me swearing like a trooper.

Only our vineyards in Rödelsee and Iphofen survived. The Domina which makes the Black Betty was also comparably lucky. Everywhere else there was almost nothing left. Just a few of the backup canes still had green shoots with grapes on them. In year #1 after we fully took over the winery we had hoped for a phenomenal vintage and now here we stand with almost nothing left. It’s a strange feeling knowing that the impact of this event won’t become tangible before the end of next year when part of the 20 vintage was supposed to be bottled and shipped. It’s like you watch a car driving against a wall in slow-motion and there is nothing you can do about it.

Still the vines had to be taken care of – even more after the damage. I sprayed valerian the next morning to help the plants recover from the shock, no idea if it helped. And then the plants didn’t do anything for about three weeks. We had many discussions how to deal with the surviving stubs, the major status out there. Some vineyards we cut them back to 2cm (advantage: provokes the secondary bud to break), some vineyards we cut them back to the last surviving leaf (advantage: more photosynthesis) and some we didn’t do anything (advantage: saves time). Let’s see what will perform better. We also had our backup canes. And even if they had nothing but stubs left, more stubs increase the chance for more secondary buds breaking meaning more grapes potentially. But with an extra cane the trellising situation often becomes pretty chaotic, there is an increased risk of fungi having a party and also when the plant has more shoots than it can handle they might not grow well and the juice lack amino acids in the end. So again of course we played with several approaches in several vineyards, from not using the backup cane to cutting it back to a spur to using half of it or using the whole thing. At least if this ever happens again I’ll have a good idea what works best for us.

And although the second half of the month was overshadowed by the frost event and its aftermath there were many moments of joy too. In the end May is one of the most beautiful months out there.

The permanent greening is constantly developing as is he soil so the bouquet options are different each year but there are always plenty of options in May.

Also to everybody who was involved in digging the pond last year: it’s thriving! So many dragonflies and frogs. Within a year it’s become an intense hotspot for biodiversity.

We have a confusing season ahead. While a few grapes of the first generation survived here and there a second and maybe even third generation start growing these days. Meaning several things have to be done in parallel out there. With the surviving Domina harvest will still start early. But then calm down and last until the November rain kicks in. We’re thinking of ways to counter the loss of grapes. And planning the bottling of the new Fledermaus, Black Betty, Drei Freunde and Vater & Sohn. We’ll be ok.

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