April was a cruel month for California winemakers, bringing a series of unusually late frosts to vineyards sprouting the tender green shoots of spring.
The damage still is being assessed -- it could be June before growers know the full extent -- but most expect smaller-than-average harvests this year.
"It was cold in lots of places," said Karen Ross, president of the California Assn. of Winegrape Growers. "There's lots of misery to be shared."
The cold snap's immediate effects can be seen in some vineyards, where leaves that normally would be fluttering pale green in spring breezes are curled up brittle as December leaves.
The long-term consequences are less certain. Vines that survived the cold should produce normal fruit and quality shouldn't be affected, although growers may have to make some adjustments in how they maintain the vines, said Jim Regusci, president of Napa-based Regusci Vineyard Management. Even damaged vines may produce secondary buds that will yield fruit.
Still, the chances for a normal-sized harvest this fall are "probably pretty low," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.
The frosts hit all over Northern California, including Mendocino and Lake counties in Northern California as well as the Napa Valley and Sonoma County regions. The cold also was felt in Central Coast vineyards. Damage was spotty, a hallmark of frost, with some vineyards mangled in only in a few corners.
Predictions of a small harvest come after two years of relatively normal-sized crops had helped alleviate a grape glut, meaning growers were hoping to get good prices this year.