By Jordan Cohen
This year’s record-high temperatures are causing trouble for Virginia’s wine industry, which brings in $750 million in annual revenue.
While the surplus of sun means more people are outside enjoying the agricultural sites the state has to offer, the departure from typical weather has a cost for local vineyards.
“The problem is that global warming can cause spring to happen earlier, and the plants respond to that and start budding,” said Calvin Hale of Lexington Valley Vineyards in Rockbridge Baths. “And then, because this is a variable climate, all of the sudden you get a hard freeze.”
Hale, a retired biochemist, and his wife Janet, planted their first vines in 2000, three years before his retirement.
These days, the Hales own and operate Lexington Valley Vineyards, which offers vineyard tours and also boasts an in-house winery.
“Most people come and they want to do a wine tasting,” said Hale.
On the back porch of the Hales’ winery, the warmer spring days are undeniably pleasant for the approximately 30 visitors that the vineyard entertains each week.
The change in temperature means new strategies for pruning vines, however.
“With global warming, we winter prune,” Hale said. “It’s the biggest job on the property. We like to finish up by the end of March.”
But Hale said they are not quite done pruning yet this year, even as April nears. “If it was staying colder longer it would be helpful to us.”
Rockbridge Vineyard in Raphine is experiencing similar difficulties.
“The risk of killing frost is considerably greater than normal,” said Shepherd Rouse, the owner and vineyard manager for Rockbridge Vineyard.
According to the Roanoke Times, Virginia has seen a shortage of grapes recently.
This shortage prompted Del. Timothy D. Hugo, from Northern Virginia, to sponsor the Grapevine Grant Funds and Program, which would have created grants for independent cideries, farm wineries, orchards, and vineyards that wished to purchase vines or fruit trees to continue growing.
The bill was tabled until the General Assembly convenes again in 2017.
Hale said he continues to write grants to receive funding for his vineyard, although he would be open to a new bill that would aid his efforts.
In the meantime, the Hales continue to fight nature with their pruning.
“You have to change your pruning strategy, at this point it’s just something we just have to live with and work around,” Hale said.