Some photographs tell a deeper story than the first glance reveals. This beautiful shot was taken by Todd Eichas at New Vines Bed & Breakfast on the east side of Seneca Lake, shortly after 6:00am this past Saturday. It shows more than a placid spring morning.
New Vines sits on top of a hill overlooking two of the region’s most acclaimed vineyards: Magdalena Vineyard and Josef Vineyard, which are owned and operated by Hermann J. Wiemer. Eichas says his thermometer read 28 degrees on Saturday morning, but he says the vineyards below are always several degrees warmer. I asked Hermann J. Wiemer owner Fred Merwarth about the recent frosts.
“We were burning hay bales, maybe 60 of them,” Fred said. That explains the smoke rising from the vineyards in the photograph. “The bales can get pretty hot. We never burn anything closer than 10 feet to the vines.”
Merwarth said that he was joined by several colleagues and family members over a three-night stretch, spending overnight hours guarding against frost. It worked in some spots, but not in others. This is where the difference in vineyard site comes into view. Wiemer’s HJW Vineyard is located 10 miles south of this photograph, right behind the winery. It is generally a much cooler site, and the result is more vulnerability to frost.
“So far, it looks like we lost around 30 percent (of the crop) at HJW,” Fred said. “Magdalena and Josef fared much better. We had some frost damage, but not nearly as much. Those extra degrees of temperature make a big difference.”
And how about the burning of hay bales?
“Honestly, it’s hard to say,” Fred said with a laugh. “We’ll try just about anything to protect the vines, and I tend to think we saved some of the vineyards this past weekend. But you can never know for certain if it’s working.”
Vineyard crews across the region were trying similar approaches over the weekend to ward off frost. Some reported significant damage; others saw little impact from the cold. The current forecast calls for warmer weather through Mother’s Day, which is the average last day of frost threat in the Finger Lakes.