2017-09-21 / Life in Leelanau

Grapes get much-needed heat, sun

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff


LEELANAU COUNTY grapes like those pictured here at the Windwhistle Farm in Lake Leelanau are getting sunshine and warm temperatures at just the right time. LEELANAU COUNTY grapes like those pictured here at the Windwhistle Farm in Lake Leelanau are getting sunshine and warm temperatures at just the right time. The return of sunny skies and warm weather over the weekend was a welcome sight to county grape growers.

“There’s a lot of happy growers out there right now,” said Erwin ‘Duke’ Elsner, a small fruit and consumer horticulture educator for Michigan State University Extension.

Two weeks ago, cool weather and cloudy skies had some local vintners concerned.

Quantity won’t be an issue this year — vintners should have plenty of grapes to work with — but rainy conditions in the past month or so have hardly been conducive to color development and sugar accumulation.

“Well, we were pretty pleased with this year’s vintage until things slowed down temperature-wise,” Elsner said.


WITH A little help from Mother Nature, Doug Matthies has his grapes at the Windwhistle Farm on Dufek Road in Lake Leelanau looking good. “The warm weather is setting the stage for a good one,” Matthies said. WITH A little help from Mother Nature, Doug Matthies has his grapes at the Windwhistle Farm on Dufek Road in Lake Leelanau looking good. “The warm weather is setting the stage for a good one,” Matthies said. Grapes should still ripen at this pace, he said, but more rain could lead to an increase in cluster rots. Sour rot, a fast-spreading bacterial infection rarely seen in northern Michigan, could become an issue with more moisture.

Doug Matthies, owner of Big Paw Vineyard Services, said last week that rain has led to additional sprays.

“We’re staying on a tight spray schedule to combat the rain and doing a lot of pulling around the fruit to maximize airflow and sunlight,” said Matthies, who manages about 150 acres. “A lot of canopy management, keeping grass cut short and trying to gain every ounce of heat we can.”

National Weather Service data recorded at the Northport and Cherry Capital Airport sites show average August 2016 temperatures in Northport and Traverse City were 70.6 and 73.4 degrees, respectively. Those figures fell to 65.0 and 67.0 degrees this year.

Matthies said the grapes he looks after look good nonetheless.

“They’re starting to pick up color and ripen,” said Matthies, who expects to start harvesting fruit Oct. 1. “We’ve got some sunshine coming. That should be good. We have a good crop; we’re hoping for the best and expecting it. The sunshine’s the key right now. The more warmth we get, the better.”

Sam Simpson; co-owner of Harbor Hill Fruit Farms, Good Harbor Vineyards and Aurora Cellars; provided a similar report earlier this month.

Simpson said rain has led to more canopy work and labor than usual, but that 2017 should still be a good year.

“We have a big crop,” he said. “We don’t need any more rain at this point, but we’ve been able to keep the crop clean. We just need a lot more heat.”

Simpson and others remain optimistic, but it’ll be tough for 2017 grapes to match those of the 2016 harvest.

“We’ve been able to really produce some high-quality stuff from last year,” Simpson said. “Those wines will be showing in the tasting rooms all around Leelanau County last fall. This year is going to be good, but you just have those vintage years that go down in history. Last year was one of them.”

A downside to the warm weather growers experienced at harvest last year was the number of wasps in vineyards, Elsner said.

This year, overall pressure from insects and diseases has been low.

“It may not be our best year, the way we’re finishing out, but it’s not bad,” he said. “We’ve had such good growth and good fruit quality up to this point, so we’re still looking at a fine season.”

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