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Arizona wineries fear decline in grapes after cold snap

ELGIN, Ariz. — Freezing temperatures may put a chill on this season’s grape harvest for several southern Arizona wineries.

At least four wineries in the Elgin area anticipate significant losses thanks to freezing temperatures last month, according to their owners.

“Heat’s not the challenge. Grapes love it,” said Mark Beres, co-owner of Flying Leap Winery and Distillery. “They do great things when they get hot. It’s freezing they don’t like.”

Growers say severe frost will likely cost them between 40 and 60 percent of a harvest from the vineyards. Overnight temperatures in April fell as low as 29 degrees and lingered there for four or more hours. Growers say the damage to a vineyard only grows the longer it remains freezing outside, the Arizona Republic reported (http://bit.ly/1GTgJg1 ).

“We probably lost possibly close to half of the crop this year,” said Kief Manning, owner of Kief-Joshua Vineyards. “Everything that was budded out just got fried.”

He and his fellow growers tried using fans and heaters, Manning said. But trying to raise the temperature by 10 degrees proved too difficult.

The shoots that sprout the grapes from vines are extremely susceptible to frost. Any lost shoot represents a loss in the amount of fruit a vine can bear. The fallout will not be known for months, when it’s time to harvest the grapes.

Another factor that could be negatively affected is the price of wine. Winery owners may have to purchase grapes from other vineyards to stay on target with production.

Some vineyard-rich areas of the state did manage to escape any big chill in April. No wineries in the Kansas Settlement area south of Willcox and in northern Arizona’s Verde Valley reported any major freeze. Flying Lep owner Beres, who has a vineyard in Willcox, said the conditions and climate are much different in Elgin. While Willcox and Elgin are both in southern Arizona, Elgin is at 5,000 feet compared with Kansas Settlement at 4,300 feet.

Elgin growers don’t anticipate any more sub-freezing temperatures. But now, they will have to prepare for the next challenge before harvesting — monsoon season.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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