This year has just not been kind. We ended 2019 with a horrific accident that had my daughter Kaylee airlifted to Roanoke Memorial Hospital with a fractured skull and cheekbone, her jaw broken in half, dissections to both carotid arteries, and hemorrhages on both sides of the brain and her brain swelling from the impacts that it forced the surgeons to remove both sides of her skull to operate and to provide room for the swelling. We are still here in Roanoke with her until the end of May. You can read more about her wreck and journey here.
Then Coronavirus had to make the jump to the United States and wreak havoc here. We were supposed to open the first weekend of April. Even though that was going to be challenging with over half of the family in Roanoke, the coronavirus took that decision out of our hands with the stay at home orders. This proved troublesome too when all of the wine festivals began getting cancelled, which are a huge part of our business being from such a small, rural county hours away from large, metro hubs. April and May combined make up 24% of our annual revenue. Almost a quarter of our ANNUAL revenue is in these two months and they have been effectively cancelled. And since we don’t pay ourselves anything, and don’t have employees, there are no cost savings and also no revenue flowing in, but the costs are still there managing the winery and vineyard and preparing for bottling.
As if those weren’t enough stress for our family winery, then came the frosts and freezes. Because this was such a mild winter, we had bud break in late March, where normally that happens around the second week of April. That always worries us to have the vineyard wake up too early knowing what a crazy month April is in Virginia. Who knew that May would also rear its head to add damage? Our first frost/freeze occurred on April 11. At this point, we have over three weeks of growth in the vineyard and the temperatures got down to 28 degrees that morning. It did a lot of damage across the vineyard and totally wiped out our entire crop of Barbera. Then on April 16 and 17, we hit 31 degrees both mornings doing more damage. April 19 hit 31 degrees again. On May 7, we hit 34 degrees which didn’t cause a freeze but did create a frost in the vineyard. On May 9 we hit 33 also causing another frost, especially in the lower parts of the vineyard that was colder. Then on May 10, we hit 30 degrees causing both a freeze and frost across large swaths of the vineyard burning most all of the leaves on the top of the shoots and damaging some of the new, tender shoots from secondary budding. Then on May 12, we hit 33 degrees again causing some more frost. At this point, it is hard to know how much damage each event leveled, but we do know that we are looking at 50-70% of loss across the vineyard. Our Vidal Blanc is the only grape that largely got through this unscathed. The Barbera took the hardest hit, and then the Cabernet Franc.
Only time will tell how bad this spring has been for us. Some of this will hurt this year, but part of this will be felt next year also. Next year’s buds and part of the growth that will form the inflorescences are formed this year. The inflorescences are where the flowers are grouped together which will open up to pollinate forming the cluster of grapes. This will hurt us this year on top of the winery being closed, but we will feel the pain next year as well. This is our seventh frost or freeze since April 11. We had never had a frost or freeze after April 22 in our 21 years as a vineyard. And at our elevation, it’s totally unexpected, although we should expect anything from this year.
Oh, did we mention that locusts (actually cicadas) are also here this year in our part of the U.S.? That makes sense also…