Spring Freeze Jeopardizes Vineyard Buds

As if Loudoun’s wineries haven’t been hit hard enough by the state order that closed tasting rooms, Mother Nature on Friday threatened a spring frost that could cause significant damage to young vine buds.

For the first time since 2016, the crew at Fabbioli Cellars near Leesburg scrambled to protect the vines using a system of tarps and air drains.

Owner Doug Fabbioli said he learned a tough lesson with a freeze a decade ago.

“In 2010, we figured we lost about $85,000 worth of crop. This year, our vines are bigger and we’ve planted more, so there is probably potentially $150,000 worth of crop out there that could be damaged if things don’t go well,” he said.

The system, purchased in 2011, involves installing tarps on the fences lining the vineyard and using large fans suck the cold air from the ground and blow it straight up, allowing the warm air to come down the hill and fill that vacuum that has been created. The system runs overnight during the coldest part of the day, with the predawn hours posing the highest risk.

“What we’re trying to do is take the cold air out and allow that warm air come down and work and protect our grape vines,” Fabbioli said.

He said the $25,000 for the air drain system and the $1,000 it costs for his crew each time they need to put up the frost protection is an investment that is worth every penny. 

Doug Fabbioli hooks up a large air drain fan to a tractor in preparation for a threatened spring frost April 10, 2020. [Courtesy of Fabbioli Cellars]

“This system makes the frost less damaging and protects our grapevines. We want to isolate our vineyards and this is why we put these green tarps up along our deer fence. At night, we will pull these tarps open, like the sides of a pool to keep the cold air out and only treat the section of ground within that tarp, as we only have so many fans,” he said.

After a night of near freezing temperatures and strongnorthwest winds,Fabbioli and his crew reported a successful operation.

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