Harvest Wraps Up in the Midwest

Wineries and grapegrowers report above-average harvest across region

by Linda Jones McKee
wine  wineries vineyards michigan harvest
Clusters of Pinot Gris arrive at St. Julian Wine Co. in Paw Paw, Mich.

Lancaster, Pa.—Some regions within the Midwest had a growing season much like that of the southern and the northeastern parts of the United States. Many vineyards had a relatively cool, wet summer that was followed by weeks of warm to hot weather in September and early October. A few areas had significantly less rain, but the entire region benefitted from the late-season summerlike temperatures, and harvest was widely reported as being “above-average.”

Northeastern Ohio suffered extensive vineyard damage during the polar vortex winter of 2013-14, and Nick Ferrante, winemaker at Ferrante Wine Farm in Geneva, Ohio, had to replant 8 acres of the winery’s 47 acres of vineyard after that event. This is the first year six of those acres are now producing. Ferrante told Wines & Vines on Oct. 25 that while the crop was smaller than in 2016, the quality was excellent. A cool August was followed by a hot September, with three weeks in the 80s and six days in the 90s. He reported getting sugar levels he had never seen before, between 23° and 25° Brix, and said this year’s wines may be the best wines he has ever made.

Todd Steiner, enology program manager and outreach specialist at Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, said: “If you had asked me at the beginning of September how harvest would turn out, I’d have said I’m not looking forward to it.”

The first half of the summer had rain, and the second half had less moisture. Sugars were low and acids were high. Then, for two weeks in September, the vineyards had hot weather during the day and cool temperatures at night. “The grapes caught up in their maturity,” Steiner stated. “The sugars are good; the white grapes are looking really good, and the reds have good potential. Yields are pretty good, and growers are pleased.” Like Ferrante, Steiner noted that vines planted in 2014 are just starting to produce. “We’re starting to see better yields, up to where we should be, more like pre-polar vortex,” he commented.

Dr. Paolo Sabbatini, associate professor in the horticulture department of Michigan State University, reported that the growing season in Michigan had very cool temperatures and rain around the time of bloom, and the result in some areas was poor fruit set, with the possibility that tonnage may be lower. It remained cool in July, and véraison was delayed. As in other parts of the East, after Labor Day the weather warmed up considerably, and many wineries had a very good harvest.

When asked how harvest went this year, Nancy Oxley, vice-president of St. Julian Wine Co. in Paw Paw, Mich., responded, “This is one of the vintages to remember!” According to Oxley, southwest Michigan had a warm summer with dry to near-drought conditions. She noted that often the region gets too much rain during harvest, but this year it was the vineyards in the northern part of the state got rain.

St. Julian started harvest Aug. 28, and Oxley reported that the grapes had great sugars and acids maintained their levels. “Usually we have to add sugar to our wines,” she said, “but this year we had minimal sugar additions.” Hot weather with temperatures in the high 80s arrived the last week in September and stayed warm for two weeks, during which St. Julian harvested about 80% of their 3,000 tons of grapes.

The Winery at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, Mich. purchased a flash détente system this year, and Oxley used the system for some of their reds, including Chambourcin, Chancellor and Cabernet Franc. She noted that the reds are really dark and intense, and almost didn’t need the flash détente processing.

“We’re quite pleased with harvest,” Oxley said. “I hope it’s one for the record books.”

“Harvest looks a lot better than the last two years,” Dr. Dean Volenberg, viticulture extension specialist at the University of Missouri, commented in early September. July in Missouri was hot, but August was cool, and by September the growing degree-days were at the same place as in 2016. The white grapes had been harvested, and with cool nights the grapes were ripening more quickly.

“Everything is going well,” he said. “We’re waiting for the reds, and I just hope the weather stays dry.”

Sam Jennings, winemaker at Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls, Minn., told Wines & Vines that yields in the state are “really good. It’s a huge year for everyone. There’s probably 2 or 3 tons extra from each grower. We’ve had to turn fruit away; we try to find someone who needs it.”

Temperatures were cool in August with some rain. He believes that the water content from the wet conditions helped to lower the acid levels in some of the cold-climate grapes such as La Crescent and Frontenac Gris. In September the weather warmed up into the 80s, and “everything started to come in at once,” Jennings said. He picked the first Edelweiss on Sept. 9. Gradually the temperatures dropped into the 60s and 70s. By the third week in October it was in the 50s, and the weather was turning cold.


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