Michigan wineries wrapping up bountiful 2012 harvest early


This bunch of Vignoles shows the effect of botrytis, what Germans call “noble rot,” that shrivels the grapes and intensifies the flavors of the juice left in the dried, raisinlike grapes. It’s a desirable thing to create late harvest wines. This photo was shot Sept. 8, 2012. (Fenn Valley Vineyards)

The 2012 vintage in Michigan will be yet another in a string of excellent harvests. The 2010 was compromised in quantity, but quality made up for that; and 2011 was all-round terrific. Just think: Now we have a third vintage to toast. So far, vintners are in agreement that the wines may be softer because of lower acids caused by the dry heat, but ripeness, especially for the reds, may help make for that.

Picking started earlier than vintners can ever remember, and here in early October, only a few grapes are left on the vines to further mature. St. Julian winemaker Nancie Corum Oxley, who always works the harvest into November, commented on Facebook she was getting a day off to head back to Purdue Saturday for the Homecoming football game — for first time since she moved to Michigan.

There was consensus on the quality of one particular grape variety: Pinot Noir. Everybody loved the chemistry.

Here’s what I learned in calls to Michigan vintners this week:

Doug Welsch, Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville (near Saugatuck): “I’m pumped. We’ve been a constant three weeks ahead of schedule since we started picking Aug. 27. The only grapes still hanging are the red vinifera (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon), Chambourcin and the Vidal — the Vidal is still out there because we are so jammed up in the cellar. Everybody is bringing in more grapes than they said. (Fenn Valley makes its own wines and contracts to make wines for other vintners as well.) The Vignoles, which we use for our late harvest wine, was absolutely stunning. Twenty-five percent of the berries were dried like golden raisins (this is a good thing — SS). September was so dry, the grapes just dried up and did not get bunch mold. The quantity (of the Vignoles) will not be big because you don’t get much juice when you press them.

Brian Hosmer, winermaker with Mark Johnson, Chateau Chantal (Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City): “We are 40 percent through harvest. This has been very interesting growing season. Starting with the earlier than usual nail-biting bud-break while we waited for the chance of frost to pass. Then on to the abnormally hot summer that put the vines into overdrive accumulating sugars, flavor development and acid metabolism. Which meant that the early varieties came in about two weeks early, with very ripe flavors and soft acidity. So the Pinot Grigio, Noir, and Blanc will be great this year. For us the Chardonnay was able to hold the acidity which will make a very nice stainless (steel) wine. As for the late varieties we are still waiting on them, but the early reports look like they have the riper flavors from a warm season and the acidity to help them age. The Pinot Noir numbers (fermentable sugar, acids) are perfect.”

Adam Satchwell, Shady Lane Cellars (Suttons Bay): “We are about 60 percent through. And this will be the earliest I have wrapped up a harvest. Quality looks good. I’m not one to declare it a vintage of the century at bud break; I wait till fruit is picked. Fruit chemistry looks good. Flavors look good. With reds, the acids are not big this year. All that heat was driving it down. We had adequate acidity in Riesling.  Our Blaufrankisch is looking pretty happy.” (Shady Lane’s 2010 Blau Franc was Best Dry Red at the 2012 Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition.)

Chris Baldyga, 2 Lads Winery, Old Mission Peninsula (Traverse City): “The Pinot Noir is wonderful. It’s spot on. I don’t think you could write it any better. Sugars are great. Riesling and Pinot Grigio are more lush, rich, softer. We still have Cabernet Franc and Merlot hanging. We had 70 percent of  our 23.5 acres of grapes picked and in the cellar by the end of September. That has never happened before.”

David Braganini, St. Julian Winery, Southwest Michigan (Paw Paw): “We should be finished harvesting everything by Friday afternoon, except for the late harvest Vidal and Cabernet Sauvignon. Quantity is a little less than last year because of a spring frost. ”

We all know how contrary Michigan weather can be. Let’s raise one to Mother Nature for lining our state’s cellars with lots of new wines.