Shortly after bud break began in King Estate’s vineyard in early April, the Willamette Valley was hit hard by frost. Temperatures dropped into the upper 20s on April 15. Soon after a flood of news reports speculated about the potential damage to the wine grape crop statewide. At King Estate, we did what we always do: assess and monitor the situation, prepare for various scenarios, gather as much information as possible, and exercise patience.
Wait and see
It is still too early to know what kind of a crop 2022 will produce. Here is what we do know. Yields will be less than what we expected before the frost but will be better than the 2020 vintage when smoke from wildfires rendered our entire crop unsalvageable. Quality will remain high; only fruit that meets our exacting standards will be used. Working closely with our vineyard partners, we will bring in enough fruit to satisfy customer demand. And we will stay focused on making outstanding Oregon wine, this year and every year after.
What happens when frost strikes the vineyard just as the buds are beginning to break? The answer, as you might have suspected, is it depends – on the varietal, age of the vines, subsequent weather conditions and, ultimately, how the vines respond after the fact. As vintners at King Estate, we know one thing for certain: The vines always have the final say.
Different varietals go through bud break at different times. Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are among the first to wake up, as tender shoots emerge from formerly dormant buds. These shoots were most vulnerable to the early frost. Younger vines experience an earlier bud break than older ones, so chalk up a win for age on this one.
Both primary and secondary buds produce fruit. (Tertiary buds just produce leaves.) Think of it as “the heir and the spare.” The primary bud is the most productive but if it dies due to frost, the secondary is there to take over. Secondary buds are less productive, or fruitful, but what remains to be seen is just how productive they will be.
Bloom is blooming at King Estate
Bloom, the next step in the grape-growing process, is in its earliest stages in the King Estate vineyard. Given the cool, wet spring, that’s not surprising. With the sun shining, daytime temperatures heating up and no rain in the immediate forecast, we are hoping for good fruit-set.
While we wait, we are counting clusters and keeping a close eye on the vines to see which blocks were affected by frost, which were largely spared, and to plan accordingly. Fortunately King Estate has an outstanding winemaking, viticulture and vineyard team working diligently, playing the hand that Mother Nature dealt, staying focused and positive – looking forward.