Aid to Wineries with Cold-weather Damage

The polar vortex has brought record-low temperatures. This winter will be the worst for grapes since 2004. The cold snap and rapid temperature variations could result in major damage to the buds of the 2014 grape crop in New York and other states with vineyards. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is being called upon to provide disaster assistance for those growers with funding to offset hardship costs. If approved, disaster assistance relief may be available to grape farmers across New York State. The USDA assistance will be through TAP, the Tree Assistance Program. TAP funds and emergency loans can be used by farmers to buy juice for next year’s wine vintage and/or replant crops for future yields.

Tests by Cornell Cooperative Extension reveal that more than 50 percent of buds of many grape varieties across the area could be damaged by this winter’s cold weather. Even worse, 90 percent for the more sensitive types of buds (Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Gris) could be damaged.

Vine and trunk damage is also likely. For the state’s agricultural based economy, the impact will be far-reaching since bud damage will impact not only the 2014 season but vine and trunk damage will affect 3-5 more years since new vines must be planted and grown to maturity. Each year’s loss could be hundreds of thousands of dollars for a vineyard, potentially crippling a small vineyard or winery.

Robert Mazza, president/CEO of Mazza Chautauqua Cellars in Maryville, explained how to determine vine damage:

“It’s fairly easy; you prune the canes of the grapevines and you put them under water in a warm situation indoors to see if they bud out or not. If 10 percent of the buds bloom you can say 90 percent are damaged,” he said. “You can also open them to see if there is a green material inside them, and if they’re brown inside, then they’re damaged.”

TAP could provide grants of up to 65 percent for natural-disaster-induced farm damage to vines. Funded by the new federal farm bill, the TAP program does not provide funding for bud damage, but Senator Schumer is asking the USDA to approve an area disaster declaration, which would make low interest emergency loans available to those with damaged buds only.