Traverse City Record-Eagle

the BIZ

April 23, 2014

Uncertainty only thing certain about grape crop

TRAVERSE CITY — A balky, chilly spring could be just what area vineyards need.

“We’d like to continue seeing what the tourism industry probably doesn’t want, which is a slow run into spring,” said Duke Elsner, Michigan State University small fruit educator.

A sudden burst of warm weather could cause grapes to bud early only to be killed by a chilly May night.

“We’d have injury potential,” Elsner said. “There’s no need to rush this yet.”

Elsner said it’s still too soon to know how a polar vortex-ridden winter and spring affected northwest Michigan vineyards. He expects a regular harvest for cold hardy grape varieties such as riesling and chardonnay and a poor harvest for sensitive varieties such as cabernet franc and pinot noir.

It will take a little extra work to nurse grapes through what’s left of the cold.

Mark Johnson, winemaker and vice president of Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula, is hedging the winery’s bets with extra pruning.

Chateau Chantal, by the way, is one of three area wineries to be featured on Red & White Entertainment’s reality TV show “Wine Warriors.”

Rather than pruning down to the first buds on vines, Johnson and other Chateau Chantal vineyard workers are leaving vines long. They’ll prune more once buds are showing so they can see which will turn into grape clusters.

The extra pruning will take eight more hours per-acre. Johnson said it will add more than 700 hours of work, but the practice will leave more buds that could potentially ripen.

A bud doesn’t always mean grapes are on the way. Johnson said some buds turn green and beautiful, but don’t support grape clusters. That could also lead to a small harvest.

“We don’t make any money growing green,” he said. “We make money growing grapes.”

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