Late-Season Frost Wreaks Havoc on Argentina Vineyards

A mix of free­zing nights and warm days har­med vines throughout the country, but wine­ma­kers don’t yet know the extent of the damage

Late-Season Frost Wreaks Havoc on Argentina Vineyards
Fro­zen lea­ves and buds show whe­re frost dama­ged vines in a Para­je Alta­mi­ra vineyard.
Nov 15, 2022

Seve­ral of Argen­ti­na’s lea­ding wine regions were devas­ta­ted by con­se­cu­ti­ve days of wides­pread free­zing con­di­tions recently, impac­ting tens of thou­sands of acres of vines throughout the country. At a time when nearly all vine­yards were bud­ding and many were begin­ning to flo­wer, it was a par­ti­cu­larly unfa­vo­ra­ble time for a cold snap. In some areas, tem­pe­ra­tu­res plum­me­ted to the low 20s.

Mag­da­le­na Pes­ce, gene­ral mana­ger at Wines of Argen­ti­na, said nume­rous winery repre­sen­ta­ti­ves belie­ve it’s still too early to have accu­ra­te data but esti­ma­tes an ave­ra­ge loss of 32 per­cent of yields nation­wi­de. “We have to wait to see how the plants react,” she said.

Domai­ne Bous­quet agro­no­mist Fran­co Bas­tias agreed. “It’s the very begin­ning of the sprou­ting sea­son in the vine­yards, and we will have to wait seve­ral weeks for a bet­ter idea as to the loss of yields and how this will affect the industry,” he said.

Argen­ti­na’s frosts, which occu­rred on the mor­nings of Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, were eerily simi­lar to the frost that dama­ged Cali­for­nia’s Sie­rra Foothills, Lodi and Clarks­burg regions ear­lier this year. Argen­ti­na expe­rien­ced a very warm pre­lu­de in the days lea­ding up to the rapid shift. Zon­da winds—warm, dry gusts blo­wing down from the Andes—raised day­ti­me tem­pe­ra­tu­res into the low 90s, but at night the country was hit with cold winds from the south. A cold air mass further plun­ged tem­pe­ra­tu­res by early mor­ning on Oct. 31. The follo­wing day was com­pa­ra­ble but with grea­ter inten­sity, with cold tem­pe­ra­tu­res star­ting ear­lier and reaching even dee­per lows. Some areas endu­red pro­lon­ged free­zing tem­pe­ra­tu­res of up to eight hours.

Many belie­ve this is the most dama­ging frost the country has seen sin­ce 1992. Bas­tias reca­lled his parents spea­king of what a terri­ble year 1992 was for the vine­yards. Seve­ral vint­ners repor­ted that whi­le late-sea­son frosts are­n’t uncom­mon, what was unu­sual this year was the dura­tion and expan­se of land that the frost touched.

Early indi­ca­tions show that the dama­ge varies depen­ding on each region. In the southern and eas­tern por­tions of the Uco Valley, areas such as Para­je Alta­mi­ra, El Cepi­llo and Vis­ta Flo­res seem to be more sig­ni­fi­cantly dama­ged, as well as the southern wine­gro­wing regions in Patagonia.

Bas­tias repor­ted that Domai­ne Bous­que­t’s prin­ci­pal vine­yard in Gual­ta­llary, in the northern part of the Uco Valley, was mostly unaf­fec­ted. “Gual­ta­llary enjoys a natu­ral slo­pe of the terrain that helps con­si­de­rably toward redu­cing the impact of the frost dama­ge,” he explai­ned. “The vine­yard has an ave­ra­ge slo­pe of 5 per­cent, which faci­li­ta­tes the relea­se of the free­zing air to lower levels, beyond the vineyard.”

Wine­ma­ker Ale­jan­dro Vigil des­cri­bed simi­lar con­di­tions at Bode­ga Cate­na Zapa­ta’s vine­yards in Gual­ta­llary, noting that the vine­yards most affec­ted were tho­se in some of the low and flat regions. Cate­na’s vine­yards in Luján de Cuyo and Mai­pú in Men­do­za were also lar­gely unaffected.

But Cate­na’s vine­yards in the Uco Valley had mixed out­co­mes. “Our Alta­mi­ra vine­yard, Nica­sia, which is on a slo­pe by the river, had about a 20 per­cent reduc­tion in yields. Vine­yards in the low part of Alta­mi­ra or El Cepi­llo farther south have a pro­jec­ted reduc­tion in yields of up to 50 per­cent,” said Vigil.

Bode­gas Salen­tein’s vine­yard mana­ger Die­go Mora­les has seen simi­lar impacts, saying 100 per­cent of the winery’s vine­yards in Para­je Alta­mi­ra have visi­ble dama­ge. Addi­tio­nally, he said one vine­yard in nearby La Con­sul­ta has 64 per­cent visi­ble dama­ge. “Broadly spea­king, if we go higher [in ele­va­tion], the dama­ge decrea­ses,” Mora­les said. He also noted that whi­le some areas show no visi­ble dama­ge, that does­n’t mean that the frost did not affect fruit set. “This should be eva­lua­ted during the end of Novem­ber and first weeks of Decem­ber,” he said.

Fami­lia Zuc­car­di, based in Para­je Alta­mi­ra, has seen less dama­ge than other pro­du­cers. But wine­ma­ker Sebas­tián Zuc­car­di noted that just as vines can show no dama­ge but strug­gle with fruit set, vines that did suf­fer visual dama­ge might expe­rien­ce a second bud­ding and end up pro­du­cing a good crop. “Visual dama­ges don’t mean that will directly result in the reduc­tion of har­vest becau­se many vine­yards are going to bud­burst again,” he explained.

Bas­tias said it will still be seve­ral weeks befo­re vint­ners have a bet­ter idea of yield loss and how the frost will affect the industry: “Vines have an impres­si­ve resi­lien­ce and a huge abi­lity to reco­ver from the­se cli­ma­tic epi­so­des, so we don’t have to panic. We are sure the vines will sprout again in a few days. We need to obser­ve and learn about tho­se powers of resi­lien­ce and how we can sup­port them through cons­cien­tious and dedi­ca­ted management.”


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