Grape industry in Southwest Michigan takes major blow

ROYALTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - The local grape industry took a massive blow overnight. Some farmer’s worst fears played out right before their eyes when temperatures hit the low 20s, and stayed below freezing throughout the night.

Thursday farmers assessed the damage.

“Pretty much lost everything,” said Bob Dongvillo, looking at rows of brown grape leaves. “They were all green yesterday and they’re brown today.”

Dongvillo’s entire vineyard, 120-acres of grapes, was completely wiped out. “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Dongvillo knew it was coming. At 11 p.m. Wednesday, the temperature dipped below freezing and the conditions were just right. “No clouds, no wind and then the cold came in.”

At 4 a.m. Thursday Dongvillo’s thermometer read 23 degrees. That temperature is low enough to destroy an entire region’s grapes.

Dongvillo called several other Welch’s grape farmers from Berrien, Cass and Van Buren County all of them telling the same story. “This is devastating for the grape industry in Michigan.”

Dongvillo said they all knew this was possible and maybe even probable. Grapes started sprouting a month early. “We all kind of all knew in March, when we were having the warm weather and bud breaks, we were setting ourselves up for a major disaster and it ended up (being) last night.”

Nearly all the juice grapes on Donvillo’s vineyard were wiped out and about half the wine grapes were killed.

Dongvillo said the night’s damage was the worst the family farm has seen in 70 years.

The National Grape Cooperative in Berrien Springs couldn’t be reached immediately for comment. Dongvillo assumed all employees were out assessing the damage Thursday.

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