Local vineyards prepare for damaged crops

By Michelle Costanza

April 10, 2014 Updated Apr 10, 2014 at 7:04 PM EDT

Interlaken, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The brutal winter left behind a lasting mark on Finger Lakes wineries, resulting in a staggering number of frozen grapes and lost crops.

It's been ten winters since the last time bitter temperatures ravaged New York's wine industry, and as a result of the extreme damage, has driven the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare the region a disaster area.

"The loss is about 20 to 80 percent, with some vineyards up to almost 100 percent of their crop," said Americana Vineyards owner Joseph Gober, Jr.

Gober explained that while the plants can typically take the beating from the cold winters, the repeated snaps of below 20 degree temperatures was the deal breaker this year.

It takes about a year to recover from frozen buds, which may reduce yields for the current fruit-producing season, but the real danger is deeper than what lies on the surface.

"If the water freezes in the trunk of the plant, it causes it to split. That could take three, four years to fix," said Gober.

A full replanting of new crop, in addition to a couple cycles of growing and harvesting seasons slashes production levels down, forcing wineries to seek help from others.

"There are so many that weren't effected so they can sell grapes to others," explained Russell Hamilton, Tasting Room Associate at Sheldrake Point.

Should wine-lovers be worried?

"You shouldn't see a huge impact, not as big as you would imagine. Maybe the prices will be drawn up, but it will be hard to tell until next year, or two years from now," said Grober.

Grapes for the 2013 vintage have been harvested, so it would be the '14 or '15 year that will be impacted by this winter's brutality.

"We really won't know until May, when the buds burst," said Grober.

Despite the hit to several of the more common varietals, such as Chardonnay and Riesling, the colder-than-average winter did have a silver lining.

Production for an up-and-coming product, Ice Wine, has taken off in the cold.

"Normally we harvest the frozen grapes late December or January, this year we were picking in November," laughed Hamilton.

Under the state of disaster, wineries that underwent the most damage will be eligible for low interest loans and money through the Federal Government.