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UPDATED: Prince Edward County vineyards hit hard by brutal frost, Niagara assessing damage, Lake Erie North Shore spared wide-spread damage

Ken Burford

A brutal frost episode on Friday night and into Saturday morning has left grape growers in Prince Edward County (photo above from Ken Burford) assessing wide-spread damage to primary buds and growers in Niagara waiting to do a detailed account in the vineyard after pulling all-nighters running wind machines, building fires and using helicopters — anything to raise the temperature a couple of degrees from disaster.

Initial reports indicate spotty damage throughout the Niagara region with more damage to Bench vineyards than Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In Norfolk County (photo below from the Cellar Sisters) there are reports of widespread damage at this early point but better news in Lake Erie North Shore.


The frost episode couldn’t have come at a worse time for growers with two brutal winters in a row and vines at their most delicate with bud break just emerging.

As Clark Tyler, vineyard manager and assistant winemaker at Harwood Estate in Prince Edward County said:

“It’s ugly in PEC. It’s really ugly. Clusters might hold on some, but the death is ugly … It’s really heart breaking.”

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Ken Burford

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One anonymous Prince Edward County vineyard owner sent me a message with this horrible news:

“My hobby vineyard of 2.5 acres is 100%  dead. No mercy, I am located in one of most highest point of Hiller in Prince Edward County.”

Some are saying it was the coldest May 23 since 1961.

It’s just more bad news from those in the wine industry following rare back-to-back horrible winters that caused vine damage mostly in Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore. Burying vines in Prince Edward County helped stave off damage to vines this past winter but obviously can’t help during a spring frost.

Many wineries were already working on reduced crop yields from winter damage but spring frost can be more damaging to crops than winter kill.

In response to the frost episode, the Prince Edward Winegrowers Association issued this news release on Tuesday:

Business as usual for PEC wineries

It is business as usual for Prince Edward County (PEC) wineries despite recent severe weather.

Vineyard planting began in the late 1990’s in the County and, despite an occasionally challenging microclimate, PEC wineries have flourished producing award-winning, world-class wines vintage after vintage. In the aftermath of the severe cold incident early Saturday morning it is heartening to see the County wine industry rally. Today there are over 40 wineries with doors wide open ready to offer a diverse range of wines and visitor experiences.

“Last weekend’s weather was the coldest on record for several decades” said Kathleen Greenaway, Chair of the Prince Edward Winegrowers Association, “but we’re farmers and we manage whatever mother nature chooses to dish out.

The extent of the damage to this year’s crop will not be known for some time but already there are signs of recovery. We remain confident that our winegrowers will produce the fine quality of wine in 2015 that visitors to the County have come to expect. In the meantime, it is business as usual.”

Note: The Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association represents more than 30 winegrowers in Ontario’s fastest growing designated viticultural area.

I reached out to growers and winemakers through emails and Facebook and have compiled comments. I will keep adding assessments as they come in.

Brian Schmidt, winemaker, Vineland Estates (Twenty Mile Bench)

“I have not heard from too many other people yet … I have not been back in to assess the damage after I left. I will be going in tomorrow morning. But I think that your assessment is correct. Spotty. EVERY fan was on and a few helicopters were in the air. Now we pray!!” Schmidt took these photos overnight. Note: Schmidt later reported that the Vineland vineyards came through OK. “Feeling relieved that our vineyard seems to be fine. So sad for other growers in ‪#‎Ontario‬ and ‪#‎Quebec‬ !”

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Louise Engel, Featherstone Winery (Twenty Mile Bench)

“We are pretty low-tech here, no graphs and I can only respond anecdotally. We saw a bit of frost this morning in low-lying areas around the creek but nothing higher up. We are fairly certain that we dodged the bullet but rely on Vineland Estates winery’s weather station as the final word.”

Andrew Brooks, Back 10 Cellars, Niagara

“It looks like the Back 10 came out relatively unscathed. Set my alarm for 3 a.m. last night and for about an hour and a half explored the vineyard with a flashlight and headlamp. There was no visible frost on vehicles or roofs. However I could see my breath. There was a soft breeze blowing from the southeast. After inspecting each of the blocks several times I don’t feel that we had any hard frost settle on the vineyard last night. I could hear to the northwest and northeast wind machines going. To the south of us I could hear Vineland estates rocking a helicopter. 

“Brian Schmidt mentioned to me that the Lincoln lakeshore was as much as 3° warmer than towards the top of Vinemount Ridge. I have wanted to reach out to other growers today but I think everyone’s at the point where we’re all scared to ask. The industry is ready for some GOOD news. Yikes.” Brooks took this photo of one his vines today.

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Bruno Francois, The Old Third, Prince Edward County

“5% damage in total. Much of the damage was just at the tips and leaves. Inflorescence generally undamaged. So, the shoot will continue to grow. The 5% is mostly due to the lower areas of the vineyard. The terrace area on top was undamaged. So, we should be fine as we always start out with more buds than we need.

 “A frost on May 23 is unknown here. Generally, the last frost is May 12-14.”
Update from Bruno:
“You can increase the damage count to 10-15% as the west side was more damaged than I initially thought. The damn hedgerow blocks wind movement there. Still, a manageable loss …”
Ross Wise, winemaker in both Prince Edward County and Niagara
“I haven’t seen any frost damage in the Niagara vineyards I work with. Different story in PEC though.  Ranging from 20% frost damage closer to the lake to around 70% further inland.”
Michele Bosc, Chateau des Charmes, Niagara-on-the-Lake
“We ran our wind machines from 11 pm to about 7 am. Thankfully they did their job. While there are a few leaves here and there that had been nipped, overall we estimate damage to be negligible. A successful night in our books.”

From Twitter

Clark Tyler, vineyard manager and assistant winemaker, Harwood Estate, Prince Edward County

“It’s ugly in PEC. It’s really ugly. Clusters might hold on some, but the death is ugly. I don’t even feel comfortable tweeting it public. It’s really heart breaking. Devastating would be a nice word to use. Talking across the board, wind machine or not. It’s ugly. We might have a 2% survival. Hoping for secondary buds to push, laterals off primary shoots or any buds on the crowns.”

From Facebook

Paul Dearborn, Prince Edward County

“Lighthall in south PEC just reported 50% loss of Pinot and Chardonnay, 90% loss of Vidal. Brutal.”

Mary Macdonald, Stanners (Prince Edward County)

“Some County spots are reporting total primary losses throughout. We have a wind machine at Stanners so early counts are 30-35% losses of primaries, but County overall we are looking at a devastating May. Really, really hard day today, especially after pulling all-nighters.”

Liz Dobson Lacey, Lacey Estates, Prince Edward County


“Mother Nature was a real b*$*$&$&*$ last night. Some losses on our primaries but not a total loss. Up all night burning and will be up all night tonight having wine.”

UPDATE 1 on Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery … “After two days we accessed our damage. Front & Mid field 5% damage on primaries so not as bad as we originally thought. Our lower field of baco and chardonnay 100% loss, but secondaries are pushing on the Baco.”

UPDATE 2 on Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery … this is a picture of the vineyard as of this morning (Sunday) in our mid field which is at the top of the hill in our vineyard.  We have one of the highest elevations in Hillier, so that may have spared us.  All the cool air pooled down into the Baco which was about 100% loss.

Matthias Oppenlaender

“Here in NOTL we seem alright some minor burning where the wind machines didn’t reach. Certainly a long night wind machines run for a solid 5 hrs. Jeff Aubry agreed, saying he ran his wind machines for 6.5 hrs.”

Jay Johnston, winemaker Flat Rock Cellars

“I went through Mountainview (Thirty Bench, Rosewood, Angel’s Gate, Organized Crime, Fielding, Hidden Bench) and they looked OK. Heading to Flat Rock & others along Twenty Mile Bench tomorrow. Going to be very site/block specific.

Gary Killops, Essex Wine Review, Lake Erie North Shore

“I haven’t talked to anyone from a vineyard today but news reports say that LENS (Essex County) dodged the frost last night.”

Sarah Hoospith-Carone (Quebec)

“In Lanaudiere Quebec (just north east of Montreal, on the north shore of the St Lawrence River) we had 8 solid hours of frost. The #AntiFreeze Team (as we’re calling them) fought it with portable heat turbines, wind fans and fires. So far it looks like we weren’t hit with the exception of a small portion of the vineyard when the wind was working against the wind fans.”