This time of year in the Grape Capital of Texas (Terry County) is usually quite unpredictable, weather-wise. It can be sunny and 85 degrees one day, and blowing, cloudy and 30 degrees the next day. Folks complain about the ever changing weather and blame it for all sorts of illnesses. But for those involved in the grape industry, these weather changes can be disastrous. And with over 3,700 acres of grapes in the High Plains area, weather watching is serious business.
Grape vines are highly susceptible to drastic weather conditions. The warm days fool the grape vines into thinking the winter is over and the vines begin to bud. This is where the problem lies. If a freeze follows this budding, next year’s crop can be a disaster. These tender young buds cannot handle much in the way of a frost. April 3rd is the date which people look to as being the cut-off point for a freeze on the southern High Plains.
Nick Seaton of Farmhouse Vineyards stated, “This time of year is pretty tough. We have already had some buds to drop a little bit. You have to really stay on top of it.”
So how do you fight the weather in these vineyards? Wind turbines.
Most vineyard owners have installed these wind turbines in an effort to protect their investment. These turbines are not nearly as tall as the ones you see on wind farms and they don’t produce energy. These turbines are around 30-35 feet tall, with blades between 15-18 feet in length. When the weather is turning cold, these turbines are powered up and they help to keep the air a constant temperature down on the grapevines. Wind turbines will pull down the warmer air and ventilate the growing area to prevent pooling of cold air down on the vines. Mimicking Mother Nature and her wind, the wind movement provided by the turbines across the vines also serves to prevent them from cooling down too much at night.
When a hard frost is predicted, fires will be lit around the base of the turbines and around the perimeter of the vineyard to generate heat. All of this just to keep these delicate little buds firmly attached to the plant.
One turbine will cover 10 acres of grapes. Owners of one of the newer vineyards, Alta Loma Vineyard, recently installed a wind turbine to help with temperature control over their grape vines. Gale Burran, co-owner of Alta Loma stated, “We are just being cautious right now. We are hoping for a harvest this year and with our winter being as mild as it has been, these young vines don’t really know what they are doing yet, and budding followed by a freeze could be disastrous for us.”
Grape growers know there is much at stake. Loss of revenue for the year for one, but also the potential loss of lucrative contracts with wineries that have to be able to depend on their suppliers.
So, how does it look like the High Plains grapes will fair in the battle against the weather? The 15 day outlook looks good for grape growers. Lows in the high 40s to mid-50s and highs in the mid-80s means happy grape growers, which will one day mean a wonderful glass of wine or two for the rest of us!
(Note: Some vineyards in the High Plains have chosen to use FrostGuard units which can help at colder temperatures)