Vineyard Damage from the Polar Vortex and help from the 2014 Farm Bill

At a recent Tri County Grape Growers meeting, David Marrison – Ohio State University Extension Educator for Ashtabula County – presented attendees information on the 2014 Farm Bill. Specifically, he focused on the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), which “provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes, and vines damaged by natural disasters occurring on or after October 1, 2011.” This program is now a permanent disaster relief program in the Farm Bill, as of 2014, and I’d guess – if they weren’t already – grape and fruit growers across the US are pretty happy that the 2014 Farm Bill finally passed. Sign up for the USDA disaster assistance program began on April 15, 2014.

The TAP – Tree Assistance Program – is aimed to help tree fruit and grape growers negatively affected by natural disasters, such as hail, wind, the polar vortex, etc., and the Imed Quotedamage date can go back as far as October 1, 2011. The caveat, of course, is that there needs to be documented evidence that a disastrous event took place and that there was significant damage, so the Ohio State University Grape Extension Team sent a survey to Ohio grape growers to assess and report the extent of the damage. The results are rather grim, which is why the TAP is critical for Ohio growers and why it’s critical for county FSA offices to know and understand the extent of the damages.

So, how much damage is there?

(A lot) x (several sub-zero events) = Tremendous damage

The Ohio State University grape extension team’s survey indicates that the losses of the vinifera varieties (Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.) are in the 90%-100% range, based on primary bud mortality assessments. Hybrids (Traminette, Chambourcin, Chardonel, Vidal, etc.) look marginally better with a range of 30% to 75% estimated losses for this year. Losses in the American hybrids (Concord, Niagara, Catawba, etc.) are far less – 23%-46%. Growers have been finding trunk damage as well, which is far more problematic than dead primary buds.

How does this feed into the economic model? Marrison estimates that the 2014 estimated loss for Northeast Ohio producers WHO REPORTED DAMAGE to be around $5.8 million. Just in Northeast Ohio and ONLY for those who completed the survey. The economic impact surely is far larger, although without more people reporting, the exact number is unclear.

The Ohio grape industry will struggle to recover from this for several years, and some businesses may not even survive it. For those folks, I hope they have an exit strategy in their business plans. For the rest, it’s going to take support from the state and federal governments to keep this multi-million dollar industry rolling.

More articles on the damage in Ohio’s industry:

Most of Ohio’s 2014 Wine Grape Crop Lost Due to Polar Vortex, Ohio State Survey Finds

Harsh Winter Destroys Most of State’s Wine Grapes

Winter Inflicts Damage on Cool-Climate Wine Regions

Ohio wine grape losses hit hardest in Northeast Ohio, but still plenty to drink

Grape producers: Winter’s cold takes toll on vineyards

Local wine grape growers suffering after tough winter

Frigid Winter’s Effects Will Hit Produce Aisle




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Northeast Ohio Winter Grape School

Whew! What a day! Ohio State Extension hosted a terrific program on Monday at the Lodge. A whole day jam-packed with the big-hitters in Ohio – Dr. Mike Ellie, Dr. Imed Dami, and Todd Steiner – and they even let me jump in with a few comments on using technology in the vineyard and winery. As I promised in the last post, I’ll provide the presentation here for your perusal at your leisure (see below). Wines and Vines covered this topic a few years ago with great detail, and the article there is definitely worth a read.

Leave any comments on apps or software that you like to use in your operation. What helps you organize your business? I say there’s no wrong way, as long as it makes sense to those in your operation and you maintain consistency in record-keeping.


Bringing Smartphones and Tablets into the Vineyard and Winery


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How to make your smartphone useful in the vineyard

As I prepare for the Northeast Ohio Winter Grape School on March 17,  I am so excited to learn about different ways to use smartphone apps and management software that I had to throw a quick post up on the ol’ blog. Sure, vineyard managers could pay lots of money for some expensive software programs, but there are also many apps and software that work just as well.

In fact, I came across some vineyard management software and am so impressed that at least one is FREE and has many useful tools. The mobile websites for most are functional as well, which is a relief. The caveat to this is that some of the programs run in a browser, so your tablet must have wifi or satellite connectivity.

With all kinds of apps and mobile website dedicated to grape production, it would be a huge mistake NOT to get more use out of that mini computer in your pocket. Most growers I know have a smartphone, but I often wonder how often they use it for work. Grab some sort of indestructible smartphone or tablet case and start downloading apps and bookmarking useful websites.

Yara’s new CheckIT app is a must-have for growers. Admittedly, they do have a secondary purpose, which is to sell growers their products, but most growers are savvy enough to realize that and only purchase what they need AFTER completing a soil or petiole test…. Right? Anyway, if you’re not sure what kind of soil you have at your site, you can use the SoilWeb app to figure out what you’ve got. Again, you’ll be on your own with soil testing, unless you want to pay to use the iCropTrak software (FREE smartphone app that you can only use if you purchase an account).

Anyway, Google Drive is a very handy tool, and it can be used to create spray schedules – that can be maintained in the field on a smart phone or tablet, or on a computer in the office. Plus, there are plenty of tank mix calculator apps that can come in handy.

If you come to the NE Ohio Winter Grape School (which is FREE for up to 20 KSUA/VESTA students!), I’ll show you a few more apps and software and even help get you started with a Google spreadsheet!

Hope to see you there!


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Guest Post on a wine-related topic! Cold Stabilization

Cold Stabilization

©2014 Domenic Carisetti

Cold Stabilization is a process by which a compound formed in wine, called potassium bitartrate (a combination of potassium and tartaric acid) is removed so that it does not crystallize.

Tartrates crystallize and precipitate out of the wine with cold stabilization to help clarify wines.

Wineries need to stabilize against these crystals because consumers do not tolerate them in wine. There are some exceptions like aged red wines that throw sediment, often as part of a combination that includes tannin and color as well. In those cases, red wine is decanted off the sediment into a carafe. Decanting is a process of slowly pouring the wine off the sediment so as not to disturb the sediment.

The crystalline structure of potassium bitartrate is harmless but it does cause alarm among consumers who mistake it for shards of broken glass in the wine.

The first step in determining if a wine may already be cold stable is to place a filtered sample of the wine in a refrigerator at 40°F for 10 days (most refrigerators are already at that temperature) since that is the average length of time a consumer will keep cold wine before drinking the entire bottle. If the wine throws any kind of crystalline matter, the wine is tartrate unstable.

If the wine is unstable, there are many options available to make the wine stable.

Since tartrate drops out when the wine is chilled, it makes sense to chill the wine, however, that is only one way to make the wine stable. Chilling alone is the most expensive way to stabilize against tartrates if you rely on mechanical chilling and not natural chilling.

These are options I both use and/or recommend to farm wineries to cold stabilize their wines:

  1. New wines are already supersaturated with tartrates so as soon as fermentation starts or if you chill juice prior to fermentation, tartrates will begin to drop naturally. As you chill a juice, tartaric acid will begin to drop out, raising the pH of the juice. As the pH increases it shifts the equilibrium of the wine from stable to unstable which means that more tartrate will begin to drop out. Not all the tartrate is removed in new juices but at least you get a good head start. There needs to be additional treatment to drop the remaining tartrates to the point of the wine becoming stable. That means that either the level of tartaric acid or the level of potassium or the existing formation of potassium bitartrate (already formed) has to get down to a level where it will not be a problem nor can react to form more tartrate.
  2. If you live in a cold climate, take advantage of the cold temperatures to store your wine outside in a stainless or food grade plastic tank. It is better to have the wine in tanks under some type of cover to prevent snow or ice from getting on the tank lid. An outside building with at least one open side will do the trick. The least amount of sediment in your wine prior to placing it outside will render the wine more stable. When the wine is outside for 3 weeks at a temperature of 18°F or colder, rack it off the tartrate crystals and bring it inside. Better yet, if you own a filter, then filter it cold as you bring it inside for storage. Filtration removes colloidal structures that form around the bitartrate crystals so the crystals do not re-form in the wine.
  3. If you absolutely have to chill your wines by refrigeration using glycol or ammonia, your electric bill takes a hit. Keeping wines chilled in the winery for three weeks gets expensive. There is a method by which you can chill a wine and stabilize it in 2 hours called rapid Detartration or the “Contact process”. It requires chilling a wine to 18°F and filtering the wine into a tank. Once the wine is in the tank, pure potassium bitartrate crystals are added at a rate of 15 grams for every gallon of wine to be treated and the wine is kept in constant contact with the bitartrate for a maximum of 2 hours. The wine is then refiltered out of the tank to a new tank. This process was established in Germany by the Seitz Corporation.
  4. If you do not have refrigeration equipment, you can use a method called calcium tartrate seeding which works on wine at room temperature but does not impart any calcium into the wine. There is a commercial product available on the market called “Koldone” which utilizes this process.
    1. Koldone is a proprietary product (Cellulo Corporation) used to help obtain potassium bitartrate stability. It is produced by mixing calcium carbonate and L(+) tartaric acid in a specific ratio. The addition of Koldone into a wine causes the added calcium carbonate to react with the wines tartaric acid to form an insoluble calcium tartrate. Precipitation is aided by calcium tartrate crystals present in Koldone, which act to seed. Thus, the addition of Koldone to a wine causes it to become super-saturated with respect to calcium tartrate and this is precipitated rapidly from solution. The tartaric acid concentration can be reduced to a low enough level where cold stability is achieved.
  5. Another method for tartrate stability is ion-exchange where either potassium and/or tartaric acid are exchanged with non-reactive compounds. This principle operates in the same manner as a water softener.
  6. Yet another method for tartrate stability involves electro dialysis.

Needless to say, tartrate stability achievement in wine is an ongoing aspect of the winemaking process with numerous ways to achieve stability.


This week, one of our enology instructors has provided a winemaking-related topic for those of you who are tired of all the viticulture posts. Domenic Carisetti is a winemaking consultant who also teaches courses for VESTA and our Wine Degrees Program at KSUA, and he’s agreed to provide some winemaking-related posts for our blog periodically. I hope you enjoyed it, dear follower, and many thanks to Domenic!

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Vineyard Nutrition Management – Thoughts for 2014

And so we enter another warming trend for the weekend and beginning of next week. Then, it will get burn-your-nostrils cold again. Growers across Ohio and the rest of the Northeastern United States have already evaluated bud damage in their vineyards from the first polar vortex that rolled through town the week of January 6. The results from most vineyards are grim. Very grim. And we still need to make it through the rest of the winter, which is a solid 6 weeks to go. Maybe more.

So what’s a grower to do? Grab a glass of wine and hunker down with last year’s soil test results, of course. Now is a good time to make some plans for 2014 nutrition management in the vineyard*. Just as animals require vitamins and minerals, plants – especially cultivated plants, such as grapes, apples, peaches, raspberries, wheat, corn…you get the idea, also require nutrients to maintain a healthy crop. Monitoring soil and vine health can be as easy as regularly testing vineyard soils and grapevine petioles. Once these results are in hand, a grower can use these test results to evaluate soil and vine nutrients and calculate what amendments, if any, are needed.

Grapevine Nutrient Management Table

Nutrient ranges have been established for grapevines grown in the United States, so growers can use soil and petiole test results to calculate nutrient amendments required to maintain vine health.

Growers can work with local viticulture extension educators to calculate amounts needed to bring soil levels to those within the ranges listed in the table in Figure 1. As a quick example, let’s take a look at a soil test result (Figure 2).

Figure 2. A&L Labs Eastern is one of the many independent soil testing companies in the US that can help growers evaluate vineyard soils and grapevine tissues. This example soil test result form can be used, together with a grapevine nutrient table (Figure 1) to calculate nutrient needs for a particular vineyard.

Figure 2. A&L Labs Eastern is one of the many independent soil testing companies in the US that can help growers evaluate vineyard soils and grapevine tissues. This example soil test result form can be used, together with a grapevine nutrient table (Figure 1) to calculate nutrient needs for a particular vineyard.

First, it is important to note the soil pH, which is critical in vineyard nutrient absorption. Grapevines are most efficient at a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5, so sites will need to be amended prior to planting, whether lime or sulfur is applied. Lime will increase soil pH, and sulfur will decrease it. In our example, the soil pH is 4.7, so lime is the most important nutrient needed in this vineyard. In fact, in a year like 2014, the best investment for this grower in 2014 might just be lime in this block.

The next red flag in this soil test result is that the soil organic matter is low – 1.7%, but it should be be tween 3%-5%. This grower could work to build organic matter, either by adding compost or mulch, or even planting a cover crop, which then would be controlled with a pre- or post-emergent herbicide. This can build soil organic matter, which can then improve vine health.

An extension educator can work with this grower to go through the rest of the nutrients to assess what nutrient amendments could be added to the vineyard represented by this test result. From there, this grower could decide which amendments would result in the most bang for the buck. Again, for this year, working toward adjusting the soil pH might be the best strategy, considering there will likely be a very light crop this year. If vines appear to have nitrogen deficiency, then perhaps a foliar feed could beef up vines just for this year. For more information on managing vineyard nutrition, refer to’s Grape Pages.

For representative results, follow appropriate soil and petiole testing guidelines, and submit samples to any of the analysis labs listed at the end of this post. There are other laboratories that do soil and petiole testing, but these listed might be the most appropriate for growers in Ohio.

Finally, always work with an extension educator or a representative from the Soil and Water Conservation District when it comes to managing vineyard soils.

Grape Tissue Analysis Labs**

A&L Labs

PSU Labs

Brookside Labs


*Of course, if there truly is as much damage and crop loss as seems apparent now, growers would be better off to spend money on a minimal nutrition plan and beef up weed management. This means, possibly cutting nitrogen altogether, depending on soil organic matter, and applying other nutrients ONLY IF the soil tests indicated a deficiency AND IF the vines showed symptoms of a deficiency during last season. Reducing weed competition can increase water and nutrient absorption by grape roots, which can help the vine recover enough to develop a large crop for 2015.

**There are certainly more labs in Ohio and across the US. We do not promote any particular soil testing lab over any others. Individuals should choose the lab that best suits their needs, depending on location, personnel, or economics.

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While we’re on the subject of websites…

..I wanted to take a moment to bring to your attention that The Ohio State University’s  Grape Extension Program maintains a website dedicated to listing vineyard and winery equipment, wine, juice, grapes, and other viticulture- and enology-related items for sale: The Grape Exchange on OGEN. If you have not signed up for the mailing list, you can contact Dave Scurlock ( and ask to join. Otherwise, I would encourage anyone new to the industry (really, the old timers, too, who might be looking for a deal) to check the page and monitor who’s selling what.

OGEN Grape Exchange

Go on – take a gander to see what’s for sale. For VESTA and KSUA Wine Degrees students, some of whom are just starting in the industry, this is a great resource to build their businesses.

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New VESTA Website!

Is the roll-out of the new VESTA website really blog-worthy? Yes! This new website has so many new bells and whistles that we want to make sure all VESTA students know what they can do all on the new website.

VESTA Student capture

To name a few:

VESTA Joint admission capture

1. Register for courses.


VESTA social profile

2. Create a social profile to network with fellow students.

VESTA vineyard practicum form

3. Sign up for practicum sites.

4. Complete continuing enrollment forms.

VESTA Student Forms

5. Request transcripts.

This website is very user-friendly and can answer nearly every question a VESTA student might have, including instructional videos and a searchable events calendar. Students and industry members can keep track of upcoming workshops and conferences.

VESTA Event calendar

I encourage you to log on and peruse the site at your leisure. The VESTA state coordinators are excited about the improved efficiency of reporting with this website, as well as the ease of use and accessibility.


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