Spring freeze decimates local grape crop

By Ryan Cornell

Sometimes referred to as the “Napa Valley of the East,” Northern Virginia is facing one problem also gripping its California counterpart: late spring frost.

On May 14, the northern Shenandoah Valley was held hostage by below-freezing temperatures. Lasting longer than three hours, the cold snap destroyed grapes and damaged vines.

Ron Schmidt, owner of Cedar Creek Winery in Zepp, said he lost 95 percent of everything.

“We expect a bad freeze every 10 years,” he said. “Back in 2002 we had one. We were about due for another.”

A vineyard of five acres, Cedar Creek Winery makes less than 500 cases of Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc annually. But this year, that number is going to be even smaller.

“We’ll be lucky if we make any wine at all,” Schmidt said.

One vineyard that happened to scrape by the freeze is Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery. Because the Stephens City vineyard is so new — it opened last summer — and the fact that it takes grapes five years to develop to maturity, owner Shawn Stessey said there was no fruit for the frost to damage, but added that 100 percent of his green growth suffered a loss.

“It decreases overall yield of fruit for an already high demand,” said Stessey, mentioning Virginia’s statewide grape shortage. “It’s going to be tough to meet that demand.”

Edinburg’s Shenandoah Vineyards, the valley’s oldest vineyard, was another casualty. Owner Emma Randel said 10 to 15 percent of her vines were damaged. Her vineyard grows 12 different varieties of grapes and she said that her Chardonnay grapes were hit especially hard.

“We did have some extensive damage, but we’re recovering now with secondary buds,” she said. “It wasn’t as bad as we first thought. We’re going to survive.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com