04.14.2016  
 

Foothills Vineyards Guard Against Frost

Temperatures drop as traditional last freeze date nears

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
frost protection vineyard
 
While the sun shone on Sierra Starr Vineyard during the day, nighttime temperatures dipped into the 30s this week.
Grass Valley, Calif.—Like farmers everywhere, Jackson Starr, winemaker/vineyard manager at Sierra Starr Vineyard & Winery in California’s Northern Foothills, keeps a close eye on the weather. With his 12-acre vineyard just beginning to show growth, he reacted to a forecast of frost yesterday by spraying his crop with a frost-protection product.

As it turned out, his property in Grass Valley got a little rain instead, but he’s still worried, so the preventative measures weren’t in vain: The lower vineyards and younger, shallow-rooted vines could still be damaged tonight or later in the week.

His 2,500-case operation isn’t big enough to support expensive wind generators for protection—and they are notably noisy to some vineyard neighbors. His solution employs spraying an organic, prophylactic product to the budding vines, using vineyard sprayers already in his arsenal.

For the past four seasons, he has sprayed with one of two similar products when frost threatens. “We’ve had no damage, and no ill effects,” Starr said. “Either the products work, or it hasn’t gotten quite cold enough. I’ll take either one.”

As with any vineyard treatment, timing is important. “There is a drying period, and you can’t spray if it’s raining,” he said. Although he farms conventionally, the products are organic and approved for a variety of fruit products. An added advantage, he said, is that the polymer also serves to reduce transpiration—evaporation through the leaves—a valuable bonus during a draught that persists despite a semi-El Niño winter.

Nearby, Mike Naggiar, who farms 60 acres in Auburn, told Wines & Vines that his are mostly hillside vineyards, with only 4-5 acres in the valley. Supplied by a big pond, Naggiar uses sprinklers if the temperatures are dropping. “Fortunately Nevada County has lots of water,” he said. He is hopeful that frost season is virtually over in the region but added that the danger historically remains until May 1.

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