Friday, December 3, 2010

Exceptional, Early Growing Season Favorable for Michigan Red Wines

View of Grand Traverse Bay from Old Mission Pe...Image via Wikipedia
Bookmark and Share  LANSING -- As harvest is wrapped up and tanks are filled with the crushed reward of the season's labor, Michigan's winemakers are already raving about the 2010 vintage, and with good reason. Many feel that the long, warm growing season will result in some of the best wines they've produced. The bad news is that quantities may be limited, due to a series of spring frosts that damaged early bud-break varieties in some vineyards.

"The 2010 growing season has been an excellent one, but it had some challenges," said Paolo Sabbatini, assistant professor of horticulture at Michigan State University. "In the Southwest part of the state, spring arrived very early and unfortunately the spring frost too. Freezes caused serious damage to juice grapes -- about 50 percent crop reduction -- and minor to moderate damage to wine grapes, depending on site location."

According to data compiled by Michigan State University (MSU), growing degree day accumulations for 2010 rivaled 2005, which was an exceptional year for Michigan wines -- red wines in particular. Growing degree days (GDD) are a measurement of the growth and development of plants during the growing season. Development does not occur unless the temperature is above a minimum threshold. There are factors other than temperature that impact the growth of grapevines, but GDD is a widely accepted means of assessing development.

"With the heat this season, we were at least two weeks ahead of a 'typical' season," said Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of MSU's Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station. Paul Dalese, vineyard manager for Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula described how early ripening can influence the quality of the wine. "We have excellent quality due to hot summer days and cool nights," he said. "The grapes ripened earlier than last year, so we had the luxury of waiting until each varietal reached its optimum ripeness. Then we get out there and harvest."

Some early-ripening varieties were harvested as early as August in the Southwest part of the state. Bob Dongvillo, a grape grower in Scottdale, noted that in 30 years of growing grapes in Michigan, this was the first time he has harvested a wine variety in August.

Michigan's wine industry continues to grow. Four new wineries opened in 2010, bringing the total using predominantly Michigan-grown fruit to 75. Many wines from the 2010 vintage will be available beginning in spring 2011, though some reds may not be released for a year or two. Some wineries will celebrate the vintage with new-release and other special tastings. To learn more about the vineyards and wineries of Michigan, visit or contact the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council at 517-241-4468.

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