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Frost takes bite out of winery crops

Frost takes bite out of winery crops
Frost takes bite out of winery crops
Jim Pfeiffer, right, and friends put more wood on one of 18 bonfires designed to keep Turtle Run Winery grapevines from freezing on May 9. Photo by Kadie O'Bannon
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

Jim Pfeiffer, owner of Turtle Run Winery near Lanesville, has a work ethic that can be described with one word: resilient.

After learning of an incoming cold front and possible frost scheduled for Friday night, May 8, into Saturday morning, May 9, Pfeiffer began to plan out different strategies to save his crop.

Grapevines are very sensitive to freezing temperatures, and, with the early hours of Saturday morning dropping as low as 28 degrees, it was obvious to Pfeiffer and his family that something would have to be done to save the vines.

“I knew that I could sit idly by and let the freeze come in or I could finish strong and, if I lose, I lose, but being a tad feisty is a wonderful trait,” Pfeiffer said.

From that determined attitude, Pfeiffer, along with his oldest son Max, cut up about five trees to build 18 bonfires around the 12-acre vineyard. Each bonfire was also equipped with two wooden pallets to get the fires started.

And as the night went on, Pfeiffer and many others he credits as “a great crew and group of family and friends,” stoked the fires throughout the early hours of Saturday morning, starting around 3.

However, the weather was even worse for the vineyard than predicted. Where there was supposed to be a north-northwest breeze throughout the night, it ended up with no breeze at all. And without the breeze, the smoke and heat couldn’t travel across the vineyard as easily. The temperature was lower than the forecast predicted. Also, Pfeiffer said the dew point was higher than expected, which is what would cause the frost to happen.

“We are probably looking at a 70 to 80% crop loss due to the frost and temperatures we experienced that night,” Pfeiffer said. “The last time this kind of frost happened this late into the year would be around 2012. But, I have also noticed that April and May have been trending colder in the past 10 years, with September and October trending warmer. What happened this week is probably in the top 20 coldest mornings of the year this far.”

While most of the primary buds were frozen and lost, many secondary buds remain. The vines also remain intact as well, and Pfeiffer said the winery is hopefully out of the woods in terms of freeze-worthy temperatures. Pfeiffer also said had they not tried to utilize this bonfire method the winery could be looking at a 90% crop loss, so he is happy the community’s efforts made some impact.

“If anything, I would rather give 120% and fail miserably than to not try at all,” Pfeiffer said. “I will always look for options B through E if option A didn’t work out. Resiliency is key to owning a business and to life in general.”

Because of COVID-19 and social distancing regulations, Turtle Run Winery is offering curbside pickup at the winery itself, and many of their offerings can be found in most Indiana stores where wine is sold.