TRAVERSE CITY — Every growing season has its memorable features, and with the many complications of weather, pests and other factors, there are almost always positive and negative outcomes.
Wine grape growing in northern Michigan saw its share of challenges in 2013, but fortunately there were good points as well. The growing season started late, but this actually helped avoid bud injury and crop loss from spring frosts. The growing season was on the cool side, which slowed shoot and fruit development; it also resulted in less need for hedging of excess shoot growth to avoid shading of the fruit. The cool temperatures helped to limit the activity of pest insects; much of the season it was not rainy, limiting the development of important diseases. The situation going into late September looked pretty good. There was an ample crop of grapes in most vineyards, in excellent condition, just a couple of weeks behind the normal level of maturity for the region. All that was needed was a “normal” October, and all would be fine.
Rain, cold, rain, cold… it seemed like it would never end. October was off to a very miserable start. The only good thing about it was that it was cold enough that fruit rots did not run rampant, which can happen in wet conditions. The weather did eventually improve, but there had been a significant delay in fruit maturation. Some vineyards were now almost a month behind the normal pace of ripening. Many sites were still picking Riesling grapes in the second week of November, the latest grape harvest on record for the Grand Traverse region.
On the very positive side, the early onset of extremely cold weather in December allowed for the harvest of ice wine grapes about a month earlier than usual, and the winery crews were very happy about that.
There was one other benefit generated by the odd weather of 2013 — it resulted in a very good “learning” year at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Leelanau County, where a research trial of many new wine grape varieties was heading into its second harvest season. Odd seasons are tough for commercial growers, but they can be very revealing events in variety trials. If a test variety shows a particularly bad result due to certain weather conditions, this can be noted and studied. Variety limitations observed in test plots help growers in choosing what to plant in future commercial vineyards. Even with the latest harvest season ever experienced in the area, more than 25 of the experimental varieties reached acceptable fruit maturity and were harvested by Nov. 8.
More information on the 2013 harvest and the performance of test varieties will be presented at the 2014 Northwest Michigan Orchard & Vineyard Show, Jan. 14 and 15, at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme. For more information on this event or the wine grape research going on in northern Michigan, feel free to contact me at the Grand Traverse Michigan State University Extension office in Traverse City (231-922-4822 or email@example.com).