Now that a little time has passed since those alarming mid-November frosts, vineyard owners are in a better position to assess the damage, ourselves included.
Things are certainly not as bad as we first thought. The hardest hit area is to the left of the drive as you enter Bald Hills where Pinot Noir Clone 5 is grown, and if you gaze across the tops of the vines the brown discolouration is immediately obvious. Curiously, in this area some of the vines are untouched and are growing and flowering as though nothing had happened and you can see them popping up their green shoots amidst the sea of brown in a random pattern.
The remainder of the Pinot Noir is in good health and in fact is growing at an even greater pace, it seems to us, than in previous years, apart from a touch-up here and there.
The Pinot Gris, of which we have just a hectare, has been “hit” in a similar fashion to the Clone 5 of Pinot Noir near the gate, though not as badly.
The Riesling got off Scott Free.
At Bald Hills we fight frosts with wind machines. These machines are set to go off at about 1 degree above zero. A probe within the vines communicates the temperature to the machines and they start up automatically, dragging down the inversion layer to mix with the cold air at ground level and thus raise the temperature preventing freezing from occurring.
Sadly though on this occasion, there was no warmer “inversion layer” to do the job for us and much of Central Otago! The random nature of the attack tells us that some vines have more immunity to frost – either they are at a more advanced stage of growth, or their variety or clone is less vulnerable. Some sites are said to be frost free, but even some of these did not escape!
So, all in all we might have lost, for this season, about 1/7 of our crop, sad, but not too bad, and you have to expect this when you are farming “on the edge”.