Wine makers in Southwest Michigan dealt with the crazy weather in 2012

Many of us enjoyed the quick warm up last spring, but you may remember the horror stories from fruit growers in 2012.

With the wine industry becoming more of a force in Southwestern Michigan how did they do dealing with the drought conditions?

Like the rest of the area, Berrien County suffered through the triple-whammy of 2012, record March heat followed by 3 freezes in April, and then of course the drought.

Last year was definitely not a good year for area farmers. Some struggled through it and ended up with a decent crop, but others lost everything. For the farming community, that's like being laid off from your job for a year with no income, but you still put in the work. For most of us, last March was an awesome burst of spring, but it also meant many of the plants and crops sprang to life much earlier than normal. April then brought multiple freezes, which was devastating for Southwest Michigan fruits.

“I feel bad for the Concord growers, peaches, pears, those draw people out here too, “ says Eric Wagner the Owner of Hickory Creek Winery. “If there are no apples on the trees, people aren't going to stop and buy wine, not good for the region.”

Eric Wagner and his wife just bought Hickory Creek Winery last spring from Michael de Schaaf, who is still the grower and wine-maker.

“My wife and I, as many Chicagoans do, love being in Southwest Michigan, explains Wagner. “But we've always loved this winery and the work Mike's done with the wines here.”

Michael has lived in Southwest Michigan his entire life and fell in love with wine-making. He's been in this business for almost 20 years, growing the grapes, fermenting the crop into wines, and even consulting for other wineries in the area.

“A lot of wine areas have consistent weather,” says vineyard consultant and wine maker Michael de Schaaf. “Here from year to year is drastically different. It makes it unique, interesting, and never a dull moment.”

The weather here in Michigan in 2012 was even more inconsistent than usual. After the warm March brought all the buds out on the vines and trees, there were three different periods with freezing temperatures, one of them four nights in a row.

“Last year was a very unique situation with the spring freeze issues,” says de Schaaf. “Unfortunately for concord and fruit guys lost 100 percent of crop. The wine grapes brought out a little bit later.”

They're covered with snow now, but because of some lucky timing last spring, many of these grapes used for wines survived the freeze with just marginal losses. But Mother Nature wasn't done yet.

“Then we went right from the frost into the drought which was very expensive,” explains de Schaaf. “Younger vineyards had to be drip irrigated. I saw vines from six year old vineyards, it was turning brown and starting to shut down, it was too hot.”

At least with a drought, you can try and get water to the plants to help them survive. That's what the wine makers in Berrien County set out to do.

Watering whole fields that aren't set up for that is very time-consuming and expensive. This was their livelihood and they were bound and determined to get the job done.

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