As many found out in 2012, it’s not easy being a fruit grower in southwest Michigan.
NewsCenter 16 meteorologist Mike Hoffman investigated how the wineries ended up faring in 2012.
The crops that survived the freezes last spring had to then contend with the drought. It’s just another year in the life of wine-makers in Michigan.
They are not able to just go out and plant grapes in the spring and get wine next fall. It takes time to grow the grapes, and then it takes time to ferment the wine.
“If we plant grape plants tomorrow, we’re not going to see those grapes for 3 or 4 years, at the mercy of the weather. It’s a tough business from that standpoint,” said Eric Wagner, Owner of Hickory Creek Winery.
And the weather in 2012 didn’t make it easy. First the early March warmth, then the April freezes. While grapes that are used for juice were devastated by those freezing temperatures, the buds on grapes used for wine come out a bit later. This meant they lost some, but not all, of their crop.
“So our production was down a bit from that frost, but our quality was much, much, higher,” said vineyard consultant and wine maker Michael de Schaaf.
But Mother Nature wasn’t done yet, the rains stopped for most of May and June as our area went into a severe drought. And getting water to plants that have no irrigation set up became priority number one.
“We’re having to use residential wells, maxing them out to keep zones of vineyards alive. We shut down irrigation to take a shower or flush the toilet. Do what you have to do to keep it all running,” said de Schaaf.
The water tanks are sitting idle now, but they came in handy last summer. Michael was hiring crews to help him take water through the fields to put on each vine individually, just to keep them alive.
“It could have been devastating, but we lucked out. Critical rains came just when we needed them,” said de Schaaf.
The same rain that started in mid-July and rescued some of our corn and soybean farmers was critical to wineries as well.
“From a grape growers stand-point, it was a bad year, from a winery owner’s stand-point, it wasn’t a bad year at all,” said Wagner. “I think this vintage 2012 helped sales quite a bit.”
So while they’re making and bottling wine right now made from the grapes of the past few years, they still have one eye on the next season.
“If I were to go out there right now, cut, see little clusters of grapes, if the plant was stressed enough that it didn’t form well, our crops could be low again this year because of the stress put on that vine,” said De Schaaf.
Wineries are one of the few farming operations that came out of last year on a positive note.
As for weather, it looks like this year’s growing season is going to start off just fine, with enough moisture in the ground.
But the severe drought areas in Kansas and Nebraska may start to spread eastward again, which tends to happen naturally. So we really need some good rains out west to keep that from happening.