Autumn Bounty

2022 is shaping up to be a vintage year in Michigan as harvest progresses
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Chateau Chantal’s mechanical harvester out in the vineyard. Photo by Kyle Brownley for Chateau Chantal

The 2022 grape harvest is in full swing as vineyard managers across Michigan take stock of this year’s bounty.

The state’s winemakers are optimistic about the harvest and excited about the new vintage of wines they’ll make from it, despite facing various challenges in different regions.

On the Old Mission Peninsula, Chateau Chantal started harvesting its crop in early October, right on schedule, according to President and CEO Marie-Chantal Dalese.

2022 has been a “pretty average, solid year” in terms of both temperature gain and the quantity of grapes, she says. The team expects to harvest about 380 tons, which is typical for the winery, although less than last year’s record 415 tons.

A beautiful autumn day at Chateau Chantal on the Old Mission Peninsula. Photo by Kyle Brownley for Chateau Chantal

The quality of the grapes has been “wonderful,” Dalese says. “This is a great year.”

Chateau Chantal has planted several new varietals in the past few years, and this year will mark the winery’s first harvest of Teroldego, a red wine grape from northern Italy, which it plans to use in a blend or on its own as a dry red.

Farther north, in Alanson, Crooked Vine Vineyard & Winery finished up its harvest near the start of October, a result of clement fall weather.

“We had a very good harvest this year and are happy with the results so far,” says Stephanie Milo, owner and tasting room manager, via email. “The quality of the grapes appears to be very good.”

A harvest volunteer picks grapes at Crooked Vine. Photo by Stephanie Milo

Crooked Vine grows five grape varieties, four of which — Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, and Marquette — are now in their 10th growing season. Milo says she and her husband, Ted, Crooked Vine’s winemaker, expect those grapes’ flavor this season to be the best yet.

She names Frontenac Gris as the grape she has the highest hopes for. “I am excited about our Frontenac Gris, which is a white wine and is similar to a Pinot Grigio, … because the color of the juice is a beautiful shade of pink and [it’s] one of my favorite wines that we make,” she says. “The 2021 vintage of Frontenac Gris is good, but I think Mother Nature didn’t produce the quality that we want from it, and this year looks much better.”

Wild Weather
Spring 2022 in the northernmost part of the Lower Peninsula was colder than usual, Milo says, and the chill affected the quantity of Crooked Vine’s Marquette grapes. Cooler fall temperatures also came sooner than anticipated.

A shorter growing season was one of the biggest challenges Northern Sun Winery in the Upper Peninsula had to tackle as well. Not only did winter weather last well into spring, but the first freeze came in late September.

“The vines all shut down — every last one of them shut down,” says vineyard manager Jonathan Bovard. “So we had to change our schedule around, and it was a real rush to get grapes off, but that being said, everything came in. Acids were beautiful. My Brix were all sitting right there, 21.5 all the way to 25. … So everything looks good!”

Northern Sun Winery’s volunteer vineyard crew. Photo courtesy of Northern Sun Winery

Northern Sun’s team of volunteers was critical for pulling off the harvest, this year more than ever. The winery typically sees between 20 and 30 people come out to pick grapes each harvest day.

“They chat and tell stories, and we’ve got coffee and doughnuts and some form of a lunch, whether it be brought from the grill or burgers or chili, so it’s a big do,” Bovard says.

This year, the community came out in force, rain or shine, to help Northern Sun finish its harvest — which normally takes two months — in just one month.

“Those were Yooper troopers there,” Bovard says.

Thanks to those volunteers, Bovard is looking forward to a terrific vintage, particularly of Marquette and Léon Millot.

“Inasmuch as the volume of the Marquette this year was less, the quality of the juice looks amazing,” he says. “The Léon Millot looks to be awesome. I pulled it off first — didn’t have any botrytis or rot. It was just beautiful. … So it’s going to be a good one as well.”

Down south, the weather was much more favorable for growing. Matt Moersch, CEO of Moersch Hospitality Group, which owns Tabor Hill, Round Barn, and Free Run Cellars in Southwest Michigan, says the weather has been “perfect.”

“We had a mild winter, it was a nice spring where we didn’t get a freeze, and then a pretty dry summer with high temperatures, so it should make excellent, excellent wine,” Moersch says.

He expects a larger than average haul from his vineyard, about 200–300 tons, which will make roughly 20,000 cases of wine.

Those wines will include Moersch’s second vintage of Sangiovese, an Italian red varietal, and Merlot made from grapes that have “just the ripest strawberry jam taste.”

Help from Harvesters
Moersch Hospitality bought a mechanical harvester last year as a response to the labor shortages experienced across the industry, and it’s helped speed up the harvest process. The machine now completes the majority of the harvesting — it picks everything except for the grapes used in Tabor Hill’s Grand Mark and sparkling wines. According to Moersch, the harvester can do the same work in 5–6 hours that 10 people can do in a week.

Moersch Hospitality’s mechanical harvester. Photo courtesy of Moersch Hospitality Group

The process looks different at Cogdal Vineyards in South Haven — also near the Lake Michigan shore — where all the grapes are hand-picked by a crew that co-owner Jack Murdoch hires.

Murdoch estimates that in total, the crew will pick 8.5 tons of his four grape varieties. The harvest typically takes three to four weeks; this year, it began the last week of September and will finish the third week of October.

“Overall, what we’ve harvested so far has been above expectations,” he says.

The weather at his vineyard, influenced by Lake Michigan, has also been good for growing.

“Where I’m at particularly, it was a good growing season, that’s for sure, because of the weather,” he says. “We’re only a half-mile from Lake Michigan, so I’m really controlled by Lake Michigan and what it brings.”

This autumn, Cogdal’s Riesling turned out particularly well, and Murdoch anticipates that the “great-looking fruit” will make for a great wine.

At Jackson’s Sandhill Crane Vineyards, in-house employees harvest the grapes in the 2.5-acre vineyard. The vineyard produces about 1 ton of grapes, which is supplemented by fruit from the Lake Michigan Shore AVA, particularly from Lemon Creek Winery in Berrien Springs.

Freshly picked Marquette grapes at Sandhill Crane Vineyards. Photo by Jenna Kulhawik

“We have a small staff, but if you just get everybody out there, the size of our vineyard is very manageable with who we have,” says Holly Balansag, Sandhill Crane’s winemaker.

The winery started its harvest in early September, about the same time as usual or slightly earlier. Balansag was pleased with the quality of the grapes.

“[The] pH and acidity has been real good,” she says. “The grapes in our vineyard were beautiful. We grow a variety called Marquette, which we make an estate dry red out of, and the grapes are absolutely beautiful — no disease, no problems.”

The cold-hardy Marquette is a good fit for Sandhill Crane’s Southeast Michigan climate, she says.

“We have no lake effect at our vineyard at all because we’re [in the] center of the state more, so we rely on those colder-climate varieties, but the Marquette makes as good of a dry red as anything,” she says. “And this year, just because it was a nice crop, I’m looking forward to how it’s going to turn out.”

Oh Deer: Vineyard Challenges
Sandhill Crane’s location also means deer can pose a problem, along with raccoons and turkeys. To keep the pests out, staff members put temporary fencing around each plot in the vineyard as the fruit ripens.

“As soon as the grapes get ripe, you could lose half your crop in the middle of the night if the deer come in and they call all the friends,” Balansag says.

A tiny volunteer helps with Northern Sun’s 2022 harvest. Photo courtesy of Northern Sun Winery

Elsewhere in the state, birds have been the largest pests this season. In the U.P., Northern Sun found the winged creatures more plentiful than usual.

“The birds this year were phenomenal,” Bovard says. “There were clouds — clouds and clouds of birds. So I fought with them a lot.”

Animals stealing the fruit is not the only issue vineyard managers have to watch out for during harvesttime. Disease can also infect the crops.

“There is concern about other fungus issues, like powdery mildew,” Chateau Chantal’s Dalese says. “If it rains, that creates that environment that breeds fungus like that, and you have to attend to it before it gets out of control.”

Fortunately for Michigan’s wineries, the relatively dry weather has helped contain mildew and other disease.

Overall, vineyards around the state have declared this year’s harvest a success.

“It’s going to be a vintage year for Michigan, I believe,” Moersch says, “and [I’m] just really excited for the wines that are going to come out this spring and … the following summer.”

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