By now, almost everyone in Michigan has heard about the very short crop of tree fruits due to unusual weather conditions in 2012. Cherries, apples and most other tree fruits were hard hit across the state. Juice grapes in southwest Michigan also suffered pretty badly.
Fortunately, grapes in northwest Michigan were not impacted. Indeed, so far, it appears to be a banner year for wine grapes in the Grand Traverse region.
Wine grapes break bud much later than cherries and apples, even later than juice grapes. As a result, the warm weather of March did not "wake up" the wine grape buds as rapidly as other fruits; they were still dormant enough to withstand the freezes in April that eliminated most of the tree fruit crop. They did begin development quite a bit earlier than normal, but late enough that grape shoot growth was not impacted by frosts.
The severe drought also has been hard on most crops in our region, but it has not impacted grapes nearly as much as other crops. Grapes are very deep-rooted plants, so even in periods of significant drought they are able to get some moisture from deep in the soil. Many local vineyards have trickle irrigation systems to help with water needs, but even sites without irrigation have adequate growth this year. Dry weather has also kept fruit diseases at very low levels thus far.
Sunny skies and high temperatures have promoted rapid shoot growth and berry development. Fruit development is one to two weeks ahead of normal, and if these conditions persist, it will result in excellent fruit maturation this fall. Local winemakers are excited about the potential for another excellent vintage for northwest Michigan wines.
Another reason for excitement occurred in the third week of July, when the Eastern Branch of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture held its annual meeting in Traverse City. This was the first time this organization has come to northern Michigan.
The event included tours of local vineyards and wineries, technical presentations on all aspects of grape and wine production, and a special symposium on sparkling wine production. Attendees came from throughout the eastern United States and Canada. All were impressed by our local vineyards and wines — and the hospitality of the Grand Traverse region.
Hosting this event is a real feather in the cap for Traverse City. The participants will help promote the region's wine and tourism industry when they return to their states and provinces.
Dr. Erwin "Duke" Elsner is the Agricultural Educator for Grand Traverse County's Michigan State University Extension office.