A Snowy Winter in the Vineyard

Feb. 23, 2011

Is snow good or bad for the vines?  I have been approached by quite a few who ask this question.  My answer:  Its mostly good...........but....

For well established vines it’s great.  The heavy snow cover we have experienced this winter (2010-2011), is very good for them.  The roots are protected with the heavy cover.  Temperatures under the snow are very steady, and reliably above zero even on the very coldest of nights. This is good.  Furthermore the lower trunk is also under this protective cover.   It can fall far, far below zero and the heart of the vine is protected.   For our Minnesota hybrids it’s great.  They are protected with the cover and even the dormant fruiting buds which are well above the protective snow cover should come through the winter in good shape.  Fruiting buds on MN hybrids are hardy to 30 below.    So with the well protected roots and the hardy buds we are looking forward to a good growing season.  There are more challenges ahead before the crop is in...but that’s for another blog or two...

Shelburne Vineyard breeding barn grape vines in winter Big snow at our Breeding Barn vineyard site

Now, for our young vines, those planted this past season and the season before....it’s a different story.  The protective snow also turns out to be very good for mice and voles.   They can survive under the snow unseen by birds and other predators, making tunnels to the base of the young, tender vines, and then nibble on them.  We’ll discover the extent of the damage they have done when the snow melts.

pruning winter grape vines Winter pruning- snowshoes are a must

For our well established, but less hardy, vines (Riesling, Vidal, Vignoles, Traminette) the snow cover is really very beneficial.  But, the dormant fruiting buds on these vines (and these are all well above any protective snow cover) are subject to 50% winter kill when the temperature falls to the minus 12 to 15 below range.  It reached minus 10F at our Meach Cove site, the site of our tender vines....so we are still hopeful for a good crop on these vines this coming season.  It reached minus 18F at our Rt 7 site (only about a mile from the Meach Cove site) but we have no tender vines there.

Dormant vines in winter

I’m writing this on Feb 23, a sunny day that reached 30F.  The snow is receding.  We may soon learn the fate of our young vines.