Winery loses 80 percent of its red grapes during late-season freeze

Philippe Coquard was up all night in his vineyard Saturday night into Sunday morning. He tried moving the cold air around and away from the grapes, but it was no use.

“When it came that fast, that drastically, the temperature went from 31 to 27 in four hours. There’s nothing that you can do to fight that,” Coquard said.

In the end, around 80 percent of Wollersheim Winery’s red grapes were lost to the late-season freeze. About a quarter of the white wine grapes were also destroyed.

“I’ve been here 32 years. This is the worst that I have ever seen in my life,” Coquard said.

Coquard said it’s basically a total loss, and while the winery does buy grapes from other vineyards around the country, there are certain wines that are made entirely with estate-grown grapes.

While the vines will survive, the majority will not bear fruit this season. The leaves look burned and fall apart in Coquard’s fingertips.

“If you think grown up men can’t cry, I did,” Coquard said.

Coquard knows he’s far from the only winemaker affected by the low temperatures over the weekend. The freeze stretched across the entire state, and he assumes it hit all of the wineries just as hard. Wollersheim relies on some of those places for grapes as well.

“For us, it’s going to be 40, 50 acres of grapes that we won’t be getting out of Wisconsin because they all froze,” Coquard said. “So there will be a lot less wines made from Wisconsin-grown grapes that’s for sure.”

Tom Griffith has some grapes on his 8-10 acres at Door Creek Orchard. Most of his fruit-based business, though, is driven by apples.

“It was a pretty nervous night,” Griffith said.

Griffith said the bloom and pollination processes went well this spring. It’s tough to see the damage on the apple blossoms, but he expects to see the affects in the next couple of weeks.

Griffith remembers another unpredictable year when Mother Nature added a late freeze into the mix. The crop was, no doubt, affected by the cold temperatures.

“On some of our lower rows, the bottom third of the tree had no fruit, the middle third of the tree had fruit that looked like flying saucers, and the top of the tree had normal fruit,” Griffith said.

In the end, both Griffith and Coquard said this kind of weather anomaly should be expected when you farm in Wisconsin. That said, there are few resources available to make sure plants stay warm in this kind of situation.

“A few degrees make a huge difference,” Griffith said.

With most of his white grape crop still intact, Coquard has a solution if Wisconsin wine will be limited.

“We’ll drink more brandy,” Coquard said.

Wollersheim added a distillery on site last year. The brandy is made with white wine grapes.