Valley vineyard hit hard by hailstorm

FRESNO, Calif.

The hail falling in Caruthers on Friday served as a painful reminder of a more severe storm which hit the day before.

Hail shredded Dennis DeFreitas' grape vines. Ice still lined his vineyard. It was so thick he could still scoop it up by hand 18 hours after the storm came through.

Defreitas said, "I couldn't believe it. I've been here all my life and I've never seen anything like this my whole life. It's the worst I've seen. It looked like four inches of snow on the road."

The vineyard got so much hail people stopped to play in it. Holding a piece of hail he said, "Yesterday when it was coming out of the sky it was bigger than that and that's what does the damage."

Defreitas assessed his shredded vines. "The hail damage broke a lot of shoots off. These are young tender shoots. Here's bunches of grapes. Once they're broken it's over."

Tiny grape bunches and leaves got knocked to the ground.

Dennis' dad Clarence says he's never seen anything like it in his 87 years. He said, "When it first started it's like rocks hitting the boards and all that."

Typical of hailstorms, the damage was localized. Defreitas' French Columbard wine grapes took a major hit. Dennis explained, "It went through here. A mile and a half down the road there was nothing. A half a mile to the northwest there was nothing."

Some almond tree branches were healthy and full but the hail also knocked a good portion of DeFreitas' almond crop to the ground. "To say how much it knocked off it's hard to say. Maybe 25-percent of the crop."

It's been a challenging almond season with cold and rainy conditions during the almond bloom.

"Actually we did make it through that quite well. The trees set a decent crop and then yesterday you get a hailstorm and they're on the ground."

The Fresno County Ag Commissioner's office also reported hail damage to lettuce and tomatoes in the Five Points area.

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