Stories are coming out that the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales and Southern Queensland suffered a black frost on the morning of October 17. Loose estimates are that both table and wine grapes grown in this highland strip between the two states were affected with up to 20% crop loss. And the curious aspect of this natural disaster is parts of the regions which normally don’t frost have succumbed. Grape growing in marginal, high country areas has both the positive spin from the greater flavour delicacies but also the added liability of crop loss.

Near Armidale Savannah Estate owner Colin Peterson reports, “I have lost 20% of my sauvignon blanc. This is strange because we prune late, when the tips are shooting. Then grab another week before bud-burst trying to avoid this in the low-lying part of the vineyard growing riesling and sauvignon. My alarms are set to 3°C to set off our smoke pots and heating cables (developed in conjunction with the nearby University of New England). The alarm did not ring until 5:00 am when we were caught unawares and did not take the precautions.” It appears this was a white frost in this area.

Further north the vineyards Deetswood, Richfields, Wellington Vale and Splitters Swamp have 100% shoot loss.

Symphony Hill winemaker Mike Hayes says, “The frost completely wiped the shiraz block, cabernet was hit 50-60%. However, I feel we will make a cracker if nothing else goes wrong as the crop level could be as low as 0.5 tonne per hectare. Viognier and verdelho were also hit but not to a great extent. My holy grail pinot noir was spared. Bald Mountain was also wiped out but I feel it will recover and possibly produce outstanding grapes.”

Ridgemill have a frost line halfway through their vineyard which is low-lying. Manager Peter McGlashan says, “We have lost all our tempranillo – the oldest in the area, chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet – and will have to start again to rejuvenate vines for a second and lower crop. It is early enough in spring to grow a second time but we have no idea of the result.”

Ballandean Estate winemaker Dylan Rhymer reports, “We lost 80% on the home block here while the Jacobsen vineyard is unscathed.” Nearby the largest grower, Sirromet’s chief winemaker Adam Chapman reports two vineyards are untouched (Seven Scenes and St Judes) while Night Sky has 25% damage.”

As many of these vineyards normally miss frost, industry consensus is a black frost of immense cold air was blown by the prevailing breezes. The normal frost-free easily air-drained sites were struck due to the height of the air mass-possibly 100-200 metres.

Spare a thought for five star producer Peter Stark of Boireann: “I have to report that we have frost losses again-this was October 10, a week prior to the main one. I had sprinklers but to no avail. The first chill was -2.6°C and all went to plan. Ice formed on the shoots but no damage. Next morning the minimum was -3.5°C and the ice must have cooled. The ice on the shiraz by my winery was so heavy that some shoots fell off! That block had slight damage but other parts of my vineyard have great losses.” The following week Stark was able to secure contracts to supply his shortfall. Then the October 17 frost came along and frosted his contract vineyards.

Grape growing can be cruel.

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