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Ice kills

Paul Roberts//May 20, 2013

Ice kills

By Paul Roberts

//May 20, 2013

The call from my grower came at 11:15 a.m. It was so unexpected, given the weather forecast I had seen the night before, that I was surprised to hear her voice.

“Paul,” she began with unmistakable gloom.

“Oh, no, you gotta be kidding!” I responded.

Virtually every shoot, with tiny flower clusters exposed, was killed May 14 at the prized Pinot Noir vineyard south of Cumberland I depend on for my best wines  after temperatures fell to 31 degrees for about two hours May 14.

Some damage, perhaps 15 percent of the crop, also occurred at my estate vineyard in Garrett County and at many others around Maryland and the region, though few if any suffered the complete wipeout that befell my friends, grapevine pugilists Barbara and Mike Hutton.

After establishing the vineyard in 2009, here is the record for the first four seasons of grape production at Bear Hill: 2010, 90 percent wipeout due to the latest frost anyone had ever seen (May 15); 2011, total loss due to Memorial Day hail storm; 2012, blessed full harvest; and now this in 2013.

The Huttons, accomplished professionals and now energetic retirees, insist they will persevere. But who could blame them if they decided they gave it their best shot and wanted their springs, summers and falls back for a few years? (I am not exaggerating.)

Space does not permit my detailing of how such weather vagaries are unprecedented, but I will note that 31 degrees alone should not be a killer. It was the extremely high relative humidity, when the thermometer dipped below freezing, that formed the massive white blanket.

“It looked like a 1-inch snow,” Barbara said.

No meteorology training is needed to know the atmosphere is hotter in recent years — it’s recorded fact, here and worldwide — but it also seems more saturated much of the time. All the moisture from those melting ice-caps melting? Doesn’t it have to go somewhere?

All of Bear Hill’s fruit goes to me. So, Deep Creek Cellars will again turn elsewhere for its vintage, as the drama around our planet’s live experiment in human adaptation continues.


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