2017-07-20 / Front Page

Vintners look for banner year

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

It’s a toasty 82 degrees atop the highest point on the peninsula, and the perspective of Leelanau County’s countryside is nothing short of picturesque. Perched at 1,100 feet, customers hardly notice the bustling Tuesday-afternoon traffic down the hill on M-72. Cars are in sight, but unfamiliar eyes are more apt to wander toward the green in between: a vineyard on the southern-exposed slopes of Rove Estate.

For one reason or another, Rove co-owner McKenzie Gallagher is all smiles as she combs through rows of cabernet franc vines near the tasting room. Maybe it’s the view, or perhaps the fresh air. Or, maybe it’s the grapes.

“They’re looking fantastic,” Gallagher said. “Twenty-sixteen was a banner year and 2017 is looking like it’s going to be a great year. We’ve had a lot of good growth and sunshine.”

The same could be said of many vineyards across the peninsula, which appear primed for another sizable grape crop this fall.

County vintners — including Gallagher and her husband, fifth-generation cherry grower Creighton Gallagher — could certainly use another good year of grape production.

The first two years of vintage at Rove Estate in 2014 and 2015 were anything but picturesque. Despite their prime location west of Morgan Hill in Elmwood Township along what is referred to as the “banana belt of heat” vines suffered significant frost and hail damage and produced very little fruit.

Frost and hail damage is still fresh in the minds of many grape growers, especially since many of them dealt with another scare on May 6.

Thermometers in the Gallaghers’ vineyard showed 22 degrees.

“In May, that’s really low,” McKenzie Gallagher said. “If you get below 27 degrees, that’s when you’re in the danger zone. We were scared that we lost all of our cherries and some of our grapes, but we escaped it.”

Most county vines have also escaped diseases like powdery mildew so far in 2017.

Duke Elsner, an MSU Extension educator, said well-timed rain has made 2017 a “very strong” growth year.

“There’s no shortage of shoot growth,” Elsner said. “Berries were looking good the last time I was out. Disease pressure has not been really great; we’re not suffering from anything in particular, so it looks good so far. We have circumstances that favor powdery mildew, but folks seem to be managing it well. Sometimes when it rains a great deal, powdery mildew is less of a problem because it’s possible to wash spores off the leaves.

“It doesn’t always work that way, but it’s been known to work that way.”

Late-season rains raised some powdery mildew concerns in 2016, he said, but none growers couldn’t handle.

Powdery mildew was included on the list of diseases to watch out for across the state in last week’s FruitNet report, which is circulated by the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station. Extension educator Annemiek Schilder also advised Michigan growers to be on the lookout for symptoms of black rot, phomopsis, downy mildew, and anthracnose in minimally or unsprayed orchards.

Bunch rot could be an issue in the fall, Elsner said, but it’s too early to tell.

“It’s often worse in places that have had powdery mildew,” he said. “We don’t know until September, typically. If it’s wet and rainy in that time of year, then we’ll have more trouble.”

For now, Elsner said, the key for grape growers is canopy management.

Doug Matthies, owner of Big Paw Vineyard Services in Lake Leelanau, has been busy doing just that.

“Everything’s going great,” Matthies said. “No concerns with disease, not on my stuff. Lots of fruit and great growth. Everything’s super clean at this point. We’re expecting a great vintage again.”

Return to top