SURRY COUNTY, N.C. -- Piedmont winemakers have been extra anxious this week as freezing nighttime temperatures can kill grapevines. But Thursday, they woke up to find they'd avoided the worst of this recent cold snap.
The Stony Knoll Vineyard near Dobson in Surry County is 10 acres and yields about 1,200 cases of wine a year. Owner Van Coe said he was surprised to get by with less than 5 percent crop damage.
"It was unbelievable. I mean it was unbelievable. It was white out here this morning. There was frost everywhere," Coe said.
Coe spent a restless night wondering how his vines were doing and knowing he couldn't very well change the weather.
"You want to come out here and you want to try to prevent it but there's not a lot you can do to prevent it," Coe said. "Sometimes Mother Nature changes your ideas about growing grapes."
Ten minutes west down NC Highway 268 and north up Highway 601, Shelton Vineyards had prayer and a little something extra on its side.
"The wind machines--that's our insurance policy on this," said vice president of operations John Gillespie.
The machines stand 20 to 30 feet high and are essentially a powerful propeller mounted on a stand. The propeller sounds like a helicopter when fired up. It's able to cover a five-acre radius, cycling warmer air from up high to replace the cooler air that settles in lower areas.
Shelton has 125 acres of vines, producing about 30,000 cases a year. It has a dozen or so machines to help the lower areas at Shelton where the most damage occurred. A few dozen feet in elevation can mean a four- to six-degree difference in temperature, and that was the difference between life and death for some of the early buds.
The dead buds appear shriveled, dry, and discolored. They crinkle at the touch like tissue paper.
It can be a scary sight for a winemaker.
"Anxiety--yeah, I did think about it. I stayed up half the night. You got to worry," Gillespie said.
Even as every bud counts at both wineries, both seemed to consider themselves relatively unscathed with less than 5 percent crop damage. Whether you have wind machines--like Shelton, or not--like Stony Knoll--the winemakers say you can't change the weather. So you just have to do what you can.