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Late season frost takes some toll on Virginia winemakers

Friday - 5/17/2013, 3:02pm  ET

We were hearing from some wine growers in Loudoun County earlier this week that a late spring frost had a detrimental effect on the grape crop this year.

I checked in with a couple of winemakers at the WBJ's Breakfast with the Business Journal event Thursday morning and they said that while the frost wasn't ideal, it could have been worse.

Doukenie Winery in Purcellville saw initial damage to approximately 20 percent of its vines, according to Maria Canora, special events manager — although that won't stop the winery's Greek festival planned for this weekend, she noted. Boxwood Winery in Middleburg managed to prevent much damage using an anti-frost machine, according to its marketing manager.

Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars initially figured half of his vines were affected by the frost, even though he fired up his own frost protection machine overnight.

But looking at the vines toward the end of this week, it appears that only about 20 percent of Fabbioli's vines got a significant "burn," as they call it in the wine business.

"Some of that life is already coming back," he told me. "It looks like we might have about 80 percent of our crop at the end of the season."

It's not always easy to tell right away how bad a frost was, Fabbioli noted.

"It takes a little time to read how deep the damage went," he said. "A doctor can judge a first-, second-, third-degree burn right away. We're a little more hesitant in the wine business."

This frost was a little late — Virginia wine growers typically expect to be safe after Mother's Day — and the vineyards are hoping that this will be the last for the year, he said.

Fabbioli wasn't aware of any regional analysis done on the overall effect of the frost, but it will likely mean Virginia growers "won't have a prolific year," he said.

© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.