Spring Reveals Problems for Northeast Ohio Wine Industry

Photo Credit: The Wine Merchant
The snow has disappeared and many Ohioans are getting excited about sunny days and outdoor pursuits, while the agriculture industry is looking back at the effects of winter and preparing for the upcoming planting season.

As I discussed in an earlier blog, this winter had many negative effects on Ohio’s agriculture industry. In particular, freezing temperatures have greatly impacted Ohio’s wine and grape production.

According to Farm and Dairy, Northeast Ohio is in danger of losing its grape crop. The region may even receive a disaster declaration, which is a type of aid to help farmers recover after losses from natural disasters, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

January started out with the polar vortex and below zero temperatures were recorded throughout Ohio. Quoted in the Columbus Dispatch, Gary Gao, an Ohio State University Extension specialist, estimated that European grape varieties have probably sustained 90 to 100 percent injury.

In Farm and Dairy, Nick Ferrante, of Ferrante Winery, said he doesn’t expect a grape crop in 2014.

“I’m hoping we don’t have trunk damage to the vines, but we probably will have some,” Ferrante said.

Donna Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, estimates that between 40 to 100 percent of the grape crop could be lost.

“The problem is that these are the grapes we are betting our national reputation on,” Winchell said.

Quoted in an article by the Wine Merchant, Winchell remembers walking through vineyards in 1994, the last time temperatures were this low.

“It was like walking through Rice Krispies,” she said. “You could hear them snap, crackle and pop. That was the cell structure of the vines exploding.”

Northeast Ohio is a huge producer of wine, with more than 1,300 acres of grape vineyards and 20 wineries, according to the Northeast Ohio Grape and Wine Economic Impact Study. In a 2007 survey by Orbitz, Northeast Ohio was ranked the 6th best wine destination in the United States.

Potential losses in the grape crop will have a large impact on the Ohio economy. The grape crop and subsequent wine production are valued at $6 million and $20 million, respectively.

One thing is certain, however. The price of Ohio wines will not go up this year because of a good 2013 season, which resulted in a wine surplus. However, the future of the 2014 and 2015 seasons are uncertain. 

How has the weather affected your crops this winter?

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