Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 28, 2013

Vintner: 'This is what you work for all year'

BY JANICE BENSON Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It’s harvest time.

That’s the word from area vineyards and winemakers as they begin harvesting their 2013 grape crop. Some winemakers said they are starting the harvest this weekend while others are starting Monday morning.

Mark Johnson, winemaker and vice president at Chateau Chantal, said he’s pleased with what he’s seeing on the vines.

“We are right on par with our 2008 harvest, and that was a very good year,” Johnson said. “We’re on course for a good, average-sized crop, (which) is just exactly what we need.”

Erwin “Duke” Elsner, a small fruit educator with MSU Extension, also expects an average crop this year.

“Its been a slow season in some ways if we compare it to last year, but last year was ridiculously rapid,” Elsner said. “We’re about a week behind the five- to six-year average harvest dates, but we still have plenty of opportunities to finish out a good season. Not many vineyards have disease issues and I think we’re in fine shape.”

Elsner said the majority of the harvest will take place through October, though some vineyards are already picking early varieties.

Larry Mawby, vintner and founder of L. Mawby Vineyards, said harvest will start Monday.

“We pick our grapes a little earlier than our neighbors because we make sparkling wine and the grapes we use are not as ripe,” he said. “In terms of quantity, it looks really good. Quality looks really fine. We need sun for maturing, but disease seems to be under control. Bad things happen if it freezes in the next couple of weeks, but it’s very unlikely that good vineyard sites will be frosted.”

Mawby has harvested grapes in the Suttons Bay area for 40 years.

“This is what you work for all year, so you look forward to it,” Mawby said. “There are always things you don’t like and things you’re concerned about and it’s overwhelming, but I’ve always thought this is the best time of year. It’s a lot of work—two or three weeks of intense activity—but it’s what we do.”

“Now I can look back on 40 years of growing and say ‘I’ve seen that before’ or ‘we liked that, we’ll do that again,’ said Mawby. “But every year is a different year. There are some things in common, but it’s still its own thing.”

Unpredictability in weather is what brought Johnson to this region.

“One of the things I thought was that I wanted to go somewhere with a cool climate,” he said. “In California, it’s always sunny and warm and you can get into making wine by a recipe. That’s not much of a challenge. It’s kind of like being a baker and making the same thing over and over, or you could be an artisan baker and really create something.”

Johnson chose the creative path and thirty years later he’s created hundreds of wines for Chateau Chantal.

“Every year is different,” he said. “You really don’t know what to expect. It’s up to Mother Nature and I do enjoy that. We get one shot a year and we need to make the most of it. It’s an exciting time.”