Beware the Ash

Are Iceland's volcanic eruptions threatening vineyards?

 


First Eyjafjallajökull, now Grimsvotn. What other difficult to pronounce volcano will Iceland spring on us next?

Ever since this time last year, the unpredictable eruptions coming out of this small island nation have been wreaking havoc on many European and trans-Atlantic travelers.

But logistical headaches aside, what many oenophiles want to know is: Are these ash clouds threatening vineyards?

Lucky for us, it seems at this point that spewing ash alone is not enough reason for serious concern - yet. It could also just be that any potential negative impact this dust may have on future vintages has not had enough time to reveal itself.
Photo credit: Kris Olin/Flickr via Creative Commons

Catavino, a great site devoted to fostering knowledge of Iberian wine, explored this topic at length a little more than a year ago, when Eyjafjallajökull first took headlines hostage. They spoke with two professors of viticulture and climatology, respectively, who essentially took the same posture that current (2010) vintages were safe, as long as the ash cloud remained above the stratosphere and didn't linger for months on end.

Catavino cited Professor Hans Schultz, a professor of viticulture at The Geisenheim Research Institute in Germany: "The cloud will not have any impact on viticulture because the volcanic eruption did not blow dust into those atmospheric–stratospheric heights as for example Mount Pinatubo some years ago. There is no really measurable effect on solar radiation yet so we don’t have any concerns about the 2010 vintage. The dust will never fall on vineyards (at least measurable) because it will be dispersed into extremely small particles."

What would happen in the event that ash particles landed on vineyard soil? Ashfall, as its known, can have both detrimental and beneficial effects. In the short-term, too much ash can destruct various stages of growth (flowering, fruit development and harvest), robbing the soils of essential minterals. Over time, however, it can also lead to the creation of fertile soils. In turn, would this help create wines with more pronounced shale, clay and loam qualities, for example?

And what can winemakers do - preventive or otherwise - to combat the consequences of ash should another volcano erupt? Frankly, not much, apart from washing down plants prior to harvest. For now, it looks like mainland European producers can breathe a sigh of relief on news that Grimsvotn's ash cloud has dispersed and the worst is (hopefully!) over.

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Comments

  • Remember, in 1980, Mt St. Helens erupted. we still have vinyards and wineries in Washington.

    May 27, 2011 at 2:55 PM


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