Iowa grape crop hurt by this week's frost - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa grape crop hurt by this week's frost


With early spring weather, fruit growers throughout Iowa saw their growing season start approximately one month ahead of time, but back-to-back frosts this week could cut the state's grape crop in half this year.

Mike White is a viticulture specialist with the Iowa State University Extension Office.

He said Iowa could see its potential grape crop reduced by 40 to 50 percent this year.

Thursday afternoon, Don Meyer tended to routine maintenance at Stone Cliff Winery's vineyards in Dubuque County. He is the winery's assistant winemaker and said frost this week killed most of vineyard's buds.

"It's going to be a major loss on the vineyard. If we do get some, it's not going to be much," he said, holding a vine's branch in his hands. "That should be a nice little flower that should be blooming right there."

Instead of blooms, however, many buds are shriveled and dead. Just last week, the vines had big, healthy buds. The risk of frost remains high through mid-May, so vineyards may see more this season.

Grapes, however, unlike other fruits such as apples and peaches, have built-in insurance. If frost kills the grapevine's first buds, it will grow secondary buds. Those are only about half as fruitful though. If frost kills the second buds, the vine will grow third - or tertiary - buds, but that's simply a survival bud. They will not produce fruit.

"It's a tough year," Stone Cliff Winery owner Bob Smith said Thursday.

Anybody looking to purchase a winery can call him.

"We'll knock off $100,000 because there aren't any grapes," he said, laughing.

Smith is looking to sell Stone Cliff Winery, and the fickle nature of Mother Nature only reinforces that decision.

"We spent all this time out pruning the vines and, this winter, working on the trellis systems and so forth," Smith said. "You finally get it put together and then Mother Nature kicks you in the teeth. You know, that's the agriculture business though."

$2.5 million and an "in" with Mother Nature could earn somebody Stone Cliff Winery.

"It's going to be an extremely tough year for the fruit growers in Iowa. Not just the grape growers," Smith said. "Everyone's going to lose some crop."

White said a vineyard at 28 degrees for four hours will produce a killer frost.

The cost of grapes in Iowa is about $1,000 per ton, White said. It's a price that could increase 10 to 20 percent this season due to the shortage.

"There really is no crop insurance for this," White said, since Iowa's wine industry is so relatively new.

Iowa has approximately 100 wineries and 300 vineyards.

While "it isn't the end of the world for the [wine] industry," White said, consumer and growers alike will likely see prices rise.

The Website lists the location of the state's wineries and breweries.

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