SAUK CITY, Wis. - Grape owners are finally getting an idea of just how bad this winter was, and Wollersheim Winery owners expect to lose up to 50 percent of their crop.
Owner Phillipe Coquard said he's used to Wisconsin winters, but his crop couldn't stand a chance against this year's record-breaking stretch of below-zero temperatures.
"A lot of the buds did not make it through the winter," Coquard said. "It's not so much the extreme temperature, we've seen 25 to 35 below zero, but we've never seen a winter that lingered and lasted this long."
This year, the area was at or below zero for 42 days and is ranked the 11th-coldest winter on record, affecting Coquard's crop like never before.
He could lose 30 to 50 percent of his grapes that have been planted on the property since the 1970s.
"Right now, it doesn't look good," he said.
When Coquard surveyed the buds in January, a majority were black inside, not green, and already dead.
In 2012, the grapes bloomed ahead of schedule, but a machine named the Frost Dragon saved most of them from a spring frost. Coquard only lost 10 percent of his crop then.
"You can't fight winter. That's a fact of life, that's being a farmer," he said.
Now, he'll patiently wait out this rough patch and hope for brighter beginnings next season.
"The grapes we grow are usually suited for that kind of winter and this is extremely unusual and we hope it doesn't happen again," Coquard said.
The damaged grapes will impact the popular Domaine du Sac wine and new brandy the winery is releasing this weekend for the second time.
Besides Wisconsin, Coquard said winter weather hit 40 other grape-growing states, like Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania, especially hard. He'll know better by July just how many grapes he lost.
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