Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 5, 2009

Grape crop running behind

Vintners hoping warm weather will stick around

TRAVERSE CITY -- Northern Michigan vintners hope there's enough summer sizzle left this month to ripen a grape crop stunted by an uncommonly cool growing season.

The region's grape crop is running at least two weeks behind last season's crop, said growers, who are doing what they can to ensure their vineyards receive as much sun and warmth as possible in summer's waning days.

Without that hands-on care, some varieties won't ripen as needed to produce adequate sugar content for top-quality wines.

"It's a real question as to whether it is going to ripen or not," said Warren Raftshol, of Raftshol Vineyards north of Suttons Bay in Leelanau County. "This is one of the worst years ever. We've had virtually no summer whatsoever."

Raftshol's 12-acre vineyard off M-22 normally provides enough grapes for his fall wine production, but he may have to look for fruit from southern Michigan or elsewhere this year.

"This year is so out there," he said. "I don't know if we'll have enough grapes to make wine out of."

The lagging grape crop also concerns local agricultural officials.

"The grapes I'm worried about," said Nikki Rothwell, director of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station in Leelanau County.

Rothwell checked local vineyards last week and said the region's crop is "having a hard time" ripening after a cool, damp summer.

"I don't see very many grapes approaching that period where they're coloring up -- and it's September," Rothwell said.

Weather statistics from July and August illustrate the problem. Wine grapes thrive in hot and dry weather, but this season has been noticeably cooler than recent summers.

A typical Traverse City area July features average high temperatures of about 80 degrees, according to National Weather Service 40-year averages. But this year's July average high reached just 74.2 degrees, said Scott Rozanski, a weather service meteorologist in Gaylord.

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