Snow in the Vineyards: The Effects of Cold Weather on Viticulture

There are obvious risks and concerns for vineyards when the weather dips below thirty degrees and it starts to snow. Vine cells can’t function at below 10°C, and vines can die from getting too cold if the temperature continues to fall too far below zero for too long.

Winter frosts are often a risk in cool climate regions, like Chablis, the northernmost wine district of Burgundy, France – and steps are taken to prevent the risk of frost, including using sprinklers, heaters and wind machines in the vineyards. In the Ningxia region in China, vines are buried deep into the soil to protect them from the very cold temperatures that can reach minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, snow can bring advantages to the vines as well. It is believed that a bit of winter cold can bring a better spring germination which leads to a better vintage. And that nitrogen from the cold air seeps into the soil, nourishing the plant. And it is also thought that cold weather can help ward off unwanted disease and pests for a more robust spring growing season.

Winemaking has been a part of human history for about the last 7000 years and has been practiced in many places throughout the world. The most ideal places for the best wines are indisputably in areas that have a “Mediterranean” climate—think Italy, Spain, Greece, Southern France, and of course, our very own beloved California Wine Country. But it’s also well known that cooler climates produce great wines as well, albeit of a very different nature—think of the Mosel region in Germany, famous for its Rieslings. And let’s not forget ice wines, which must freeze on the vine prior to harvest to produce its famous ultra-sweet and flavorful desert-quality wine. The majority of ice wines today are produced in Germany and Canada, with China recently making inroads into this somewhat rare varietal.

What is abundantly clear is that people will endeavor to grow grapes and make wine just about anywhere on earth where it’s possible to grow vines. Which means wine lovers have lots of choices when it comes to enjoying the subtle nuances and flavors of wine…..and that’s a good thing!