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Published January 22, 2014, 03:29 PM

Minn. wineries brace for loss from cold snap, but say grapes are tough

Because of last week’s cold snap, Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria, Minn., is bracing for about a 20 percent loss this growing season, according to owner Tami Bredeson.

By: Al Edenloff, Forum News Service

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — As cold as it’s been, you may think grapevines in west-central Minnesota would be frozen solid.

But those little grapes are tough, and while there may be some losses, area wineries are cautiously optimistic they’ll come through this winter just fine.

Because of last week’s cold snap, Alexandria’s Carlos Creek Winery is bracing for about a 20 percent loss this growing season, according to owner Tami Bredeson.

“Right now, the vines for next year’s propagation look healthy and green — for now,” she said. “But that could change.”

Fortunately, Carlos Creek grows a variety of “super hardy” grapes that can survive extremely cold weather while they’re in dormancy.

One varietal, the Petite Pearl used in dry red wines, has been especially successful in surviving Minnesota’s brutal cold. Bredeson said they’ve never lost any to winter kill.

Other kinds of grapes, such as Marquette and La Crescent, are more sensitive to the cold but should still fare OK.

For many of their grapes, Bredeson said the danger point is 30 below zero for a weeklong period. Temperatures plunged to 27 below at the winery early this month, but it lasted only a couple of hours, Bredeson said.

A few other factors play in favor of the winery: The fall season lasted long enough for the vines to stay hydrated; Carlos Creek doesn’t “over-crop,” which would put additional stress on the vines; and the snow cover helps insulate the vines from the cold.

Another positive piece of news about this winter: Carlos Creek was able to harvest its first-ever ice wine on Dec. 10. “It was a phenomenal crop,” Bredeson said.

To plan for the ice wine, the winery held off on harvesting some of the grapes and kept the vines netted. An early deep freeze froze the grapes in time for them to be harvested.

The grapes are now fermenting and because of their higher sugar content, they’ll be turned into sweet dessert-style wines.

For fun, the winery is having a contest on its Facebook page for naming the ice wine. One suggestion: The Frozen Mosquito.

“We’re excited about that,” Bredeson said. “So this winter hasn’t been all that bad for us.”

Florian Ledermann, owner of Burr Vineyards, near Big Chippewa Lake, was also optimistic about the cold spell’s impact. Three years ago, his grapes survived a 35-below-zero onslaught and he expects a similar result this year.

“We had some good rains last fall that kept the roots well-watered,” he said.

However, there’s much more winter to come, and more prolonged cold and low humidity still could affect the harvest.

“The grapes are pretty tough,” Ledermann added. “If some die off, you lose the wood on top but you still have the canes in the ground. It might set you back a couple years, though.”

Ledermann grows 14 kinds of grapes, including several varieties developed by the University of Minnesota, such as Frontenac, that can withstand extended cold spells.

Ledermann said he won’t know how damaging this winter has been until March, when he starts pruning the vines to see if the canes are still green and the buds are alive.

“So far, we’ve been pretty fortunate,” Ledermann said. “We’ve been at it for seven years.”