Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 2, 2012

Vineyard owners expect good crop

Warm, dry summer proves beneficial to grapes

From staff reports

TRAVERSE CITY — Northern Michigan's vineyard owners predict one of the most productive grape harvests in recent memory, a real corker in a year when bad weather severely damaged many of the state's other crops.

"If they have any constraints, it'll be with the tank and barrel capacity to hold the juice," said Don Coe, managing partner of Leelanau County-based Black Star Farms.

Wine grape growers across the state, and particularly in northern Michigan should achieve higher than average yields, Coe said.

Matt Gregory, one of the owners of Chateau de Leelanau in Suttons Bay, said the warm, dry summer proved beneficial to every variety of wine grapes in the region, but red varieties benefitted most.

"You hope for it every year, but realistically, you look for it once every 10 years," Gregory said.

Alan Eaker owns Longview Winery in Cedar and said northern Michigan witnessed weather that "would rival anywhere in wine country" at times this growing season, perfect conditions that will lead to larger yields at harvest.

"Some varieties picked out twice what they normally would in terms of weight per-acre," Eaker said.

Great news from local vintners aside, Michigan's total grape harvest is expected to hit a four-year-low, according to United States Department of Agriculture projections. The USDA's September estimate indicates the state will produce 30,000 tons of grapes this year, down from 94,500 tons last year.

Linda Jones, program manager of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, said a cold snap in May seriously damaged the state's juice grape crop in southern Michigan, while the state's wine grapes remained in a dormant state. Early warm weather in March, followed by freezes in April and May, similarly decimated Michigan's apple and cherry crops this year.

Jones said wine grapes account for about 18 percent of the state's grape crop.

"It's been an excellent year for wine grapes in all of Michigan," Jones said.

Jones said the weather allowed vineyards to harvest about two-to-three weeks earlier than during an average year. She said many vintners will finish the harvest a week or two earlier than usual, and pleasant fall weather will allow them to finish at a more leisurely pace.

Justin Leshinsky, director of sales and marketing for Bowers Harbor Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, said 2012 has been "one of our best years on record."

He said the vineyard's workers began harvesting the about a month ago, and plan to finish by the end of October.

Coe said only very rainy weather, or cold weather with frost in the coming weeks could squeeze the rest of the harvest.