Arrow-right Camera


Freeze Sends Chill Through Wine Industry Another Severe Winter Could Wipe Out Some Grape Growers

Sun., Nov. 10, 1996

Wine-grape growers say they need a mild winter to enable their vineyards to recover from devastating damage suffered in last February’s extended subzero freeze.

“The wineries, I don’t think, will be able to make it in another year like this one,” said Maurice Balcom, co-owner of Balcom & Moe, a winery in Pasco. “Or some of the vineyards. Most of the vineyards are just squeaking by as it is.”

His winery, which has been producing grapes on a 110-acre vineyard since 1971, had to buy grapes this year for the first time in order to make wine, Balcom said.

Don’t look for any 1996 vintage wine from neighbor Preston Wine Cellars.

“We didn’t harvest a single grape this year,” said co-owner Brent Preston, whose winery usually produces 1,000 tons of wine grapes on its 173-acre vineyard.

Vineyards across central Washington were devastated by bitterly cold temperatures last February that dipped as low as 30 degrees below zero for a week.

“It was as severe as we’ve ever seen. It was as bad as it could get. In our area, it took most of the vineyards out totally, down to the ground,” Balcom said.

Jack Watson, a Washington State University extension agent based in Prosser, said vineyards in higher elevations and those near Paterson were the only ones to escape the effects of the freeze.

The good news is the wine that is being made from this year’s crop is better than usual, said Steve Burns, executive director of the wine commission.

“It’s a dark cloud with a silver lining,” Burns said. “The crop is down but the quality is incredible.”

Click here to comment on this story »