Dr. Dave Miller Michigan Wine Blog
White Pine Winery Harvest Blog 2017
The 2017 growing season has been great! Spring started with just a little frost and then the summer was warm with rain here and there. Now the fall is one of the warmest and driest on record. That means high sugars, low rot and wonderful harvest conditions. The early fermentations are text-book too. So far we have harvested Pinot grigio, Chardonnay and a couple of resistant hybrids for our blends. Riesling, Cabernet franc, Merlot, Chambourcin and the rest of the late-season varieties are hanging on the vines, slowly ripening and developing those complex aromas and flavors that we know and love in our wines.
Come out to wine country between now and Halloween and experience the sights, sounds and smells of harvest! Enjoy wines from past vintages, some great food, farm markets, fresh apple cider and donuts. Take a walk along Lake Michigan on a quiet beach now that the summer crowds are gone. Enjoy the season.
October 3, 2017
Summer Blog 2017
Grapevines during summer:
Just a few short months ago the vines were just coming out of their dormancy to begin the growing season. Seemingly overnight they went from small shoots emerging at the buds to a trellis full of leaves and fruit that are changing daily. So what goes on in the vineyard this time of year and why is it important? During the dormant season, we prune the vines to remove most (over 90%) of the buds that can produce fruit. If we don’t reduce the vines crop potential, too much fruit will be produced and it won’t ripen properly for wine or any other purpose. Over – producing fruit also weakens the vines going into winter making them more easily damaged by cold temperatures and, it reduces the vines crop – potential for the following year. When this happens the vines go into a “biennial bearing” cycle where a big crop is followed by a small crop which is then followed by a big crop and so on.
Once the buds we left at pruning open or “burst” the shoots start growing and the young grape clusters emerge. At this stage they are only flowers that must bloom and be pollinated to make grapes. So early in the season those of us who grow grapes and other fruits are always watching the weather conditions and hoping for good pollination weather during bloom. This year the weather was good and the grapes set well. That sets the stage for a good crop and is typically complete in southwest Michigan by the end of June. Once the crop is set the shoots keep growing and the young grapes grow rapidly. By mid-July we are in the vineyard estimating the crop to see if there is further crop reduction required to produce ripe grapes and good wine. In our vineyard we have been thinning fruit and small, weak shoots to open the vine leaf canopy to sunlight. At this time of year it may seem like a waste of time to expose the fruit to sun but, we are planning ahead for fall. We are removing some leaves around the clusters of grapes in addition to removing small shoots that crowd the vine canopy. We know that in September and October the days will be much shorter. The sun will be lower in the sky and its rays less – intense. There will be dew in the mornings and, if the fruit is hidden under leaves, it will stay cool and wet most of the day. By removing shoots and leaves that aren’t necessary, we insure that the fruit warms in the morning with the suns first light and actively ripens all day. It also helps the grape clusters dry out so there is less chance for rot to begin. The sun-warmed grapes ripen much faster and have better flavor than fruit hidden in the shade of leaves. So all of the work we are doing now is in preparation for ripening in the fall. By thinning fruit and opening the vines canopy we insure the crop is in balance with the vines ability to ripen it and, that it can take advantage of the cool autumn days to fully ripen our crop. The result is the wonderful wines that you enjoy from our little patch of heaven in southwest Michigan. We hope you enjoy drinkinh the wine as much as we enjoy making it.
18 July 2017
Winter Blog 2017
Grapevine response to cold weather:
I am often asked how grapevines respond to winter weather. Especially given the crazy weather we’ve had the last couple of winters. In summer, it’s obvious if vines are stressed from drought or nutrient deficiencies. But in winter it’s not so obvious. So how do perennial plants like trees and grapevines respond to winter weather?
Grapevines, like all woody plants, take cues from the environment. During the long days of summer, the vines are growing and making grapes. They could not go dormant during that period if they had to. But as the days grow shorter toward the end of summer, the vines are able to detect that the change of seasons is coming and respond by storing starch reserves in their roots and trunks. They detect a change in the ratio of red light to far – red light that occurs as the days grow shorter. The green shoots that grew all summer begin to turn brown and woody so they can over - winter and carry next year’s crop. As the shoots turn brown or “lignify” they become tolerant of cold temperatures and can survive a frost. As the crop ripens the plant becomes more and more prepared for the cold winter months ahead. Finally, the leaves fall and the vine becomes dormant.
So what happens if there is warm weather during the winter? As it turns out, the vines do not achieve their maximum level of hardiness until there has been sub-freezing temperatures for several days. The vines become more tolerant of deep cold as they head into the coldest part of winter. During this time the vines are in what is called “enforced dormancy”. During this period they cannot begin to grow, no matter what the weather does. If you took a cutting of an over wintering cane into your house and put it in water it would not grow. This protects the plants from responding to warm temperatures and starting to grow in the middle of winter. As winter continues however, the vines are able to measure the passing of time so they “know” when to begin growing. The actual mechanism is not fully understood but the plants need a certain amount of time at temperatures between freezing and 40⁰ F to complete what is called their “chilling” requirement. This mechanism gives the plants a way to measure time during winter and allows them to begin coming out of dormancy once the chilling requirement is met.
The period when enforced dormancy ends is called “eco-dormancy” because now the vines depend on cool temperatures to keep them dormant. Once the temperatures warm the vines begin to grow again.
Understanding that plants have a way to measure time while dormant is fascinating and it helps us understand when plants might become vulnerable to environmental damage like winter injury or frost injury in spring.
Let’s look at our current weather for an example. The weather turned cold in December and stayed cold for several weeks. When the temperature stays below the freezing point the plant gets no chilling time. Now, in January, we are having a thaw and the temperatures are forecast to be above freezing for a week or more. During this time the vines are fulfilling their chilling requirements and are moving closer to being able to begin their climb out of deep dormancy toward bud burst in spring. What we don’t want right now is too much of this mild weather. If that were to happen the vines might begin to come out of deep dormancy before the coldest part of winter has passed which might lead to winter injury. Additionally, the more chilling the vines get now the sooner they will be likely to come out of dormancy. This sets the stage for early growth and then frost damage in spring. That’s what happened in 2012 when we had 10 days of 80⁰ weather in March. All of the fruit trees started to grow and bloomed. Then there were a series of frosts in April that killed the blossoms and there was virtually no tree fruit in Michigan that year.
So even in the middle of winter, the woody plants are alive and sensing the environment around them. They are measuring the passing of time and getting ready to start growing in spring so they can make another crop and complete another growth cycle. It is truly an amazing process and we have the privilege to watch it happen – if we just take the time to slow down and look.
17 January 2017
The holidays are a time when we reconnect with family and friends. They are a time when we slow down to relax and enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures. Food and wine are often at the center of our gatherings and area timeless part of the holidays. It seems that every family has their own food traditions but often times, when it comes to wine, we Americans are unsure about which wines to select.
Our first rule of wine selection for any time is: Drink what you like! Don’t let someone else tell you the wine you like is too sweet, too dry, not the right variety or from the right place. Choose what you like and share it with others.
Second, keep it simple. If you prefer white wines than that’s what you should purchase. The same is true for red wine, blush wine or sparkling wine. If you are overwhelmed by the choices at the local store, ask to speak with someone who is familiar with the wine selection. Every store has someone on staff who is happy to help you find that perfect wine.
Finally, spend what you are comfortable spending. Period.
At White Pine we have several wines that are tried and true holiday favorites:
Effervescence is our sparkling wine that is made from 100% Chardonnay. It is bottle-fermented in the age-old style that produces tiny bubbles, subtle flavors and a creamy palate. It is finished crisp and dry and pairs perfectly with cheeses and light appetizers to begin your event. Sparkling wine is always a good choice for celebrations with festive bubbles to welcome friends and family.
Reserve Riesling is a classic that goes with everything on the Thanksgiving or Christmas table. It satisfies the wine connoisseur because of its classic style; it’s satisfying to both sweet and dry wine enthusiasts because it is only slightly sweet. As a “stop – fermentation” style, it is low in alcohol and its fruity flavor and balanced acidity are the perfect pairing with holiday foods.
Dune Shadow Red is our fruit – driven, every day red that satisfies a broad range of palates. It’s medium – bodied and silky smooth so it won’t overpower the Thanksgiving turkey and goes perfectly with a Christmas Ham. A glass by a roaring fire on a cold winter night is a great way to celebrate the season.
Mulled Wine: Made using Red Expression and our own special recipe mulling spice, this is a holiday favorite. Have a batch warming when your guests arrive and the aroma will put them in the holiday mood. Sharing a glass warms from the inside and the flavors remind us why this wine is always in style.
Ice Wine for Dessert. After dinner enjoy a small glass of Ice Wine with dessert (or if you don’t have room for pie you can substitute Ice Wine for dessert!). Ice Wine is not an everyday wine because it is so extraordinarily sweet and rich. But on a special day like this, a little indulgence is just what you need to complete your holiday meal.
From your Friends at White Pine Winery
22 October 2014
By: Dr. Dave Miller
The 2014 harvest is winding down as all but the latest grape varieties (e.g. Cabernet sauvignon) have been harvested. Mid – October usually marks the end of harvest but the late spring and cool, wet summer pushed harvest later than normal this year. Varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot grigio, Merlot and Cabernet franc had a greatly reduced crop this year after suffering bud and trunk damage from last winter’s bitter cold. The small crop enabled quicker ripening but no matter how small the crop there is a minimum time required for the fruit to mature.
Many of the varieties grown in southwest Michigan are well adapted to our climate and produce good quality wines in even in difficult years like 2014. It’s amazing to sample vineyards and see fruit maturation progressing even after several days of rain. Some varieties with tight clusters like Riesling and Pinot grigio are prone to bunch rots in rainy seasons so extra vigilance is required to monitor the fruit. If it appears that bunch rots are starting the wine maker must decide to either harvest the fruit or risk increased rot by letting the fruit continue to hang and ripen. The cool weather this fall, while delaying the rate of ripening, also delays the development of bunch rots and allows for extra ripening time in the vineyard. With dliligence in the vineyard and in the cellar, the cool conditions lead to beautifully balanced acidity and great depth of flavor in the wines. Early indications are that the wines will be worth the effort!
Good amounts of hybrid grapes came in this year so there will be plenty of our Dune Shadow Red, White and Red Expression and Ice Wine. There was very little Riesling and Pinot grigio this year but good harvests in 2012 and 2013 produced a lot of wine that is in the warehouse and ready to sell over the next year. The fruit that was harvested smells great in the fermenters and will produce classic wines. The red vinifera crop was virtually non-existent this year so we will likely run short of Merlot, Cabernet franc, Syrah and Serendipity once the 2013’s are gone in late 2015 / early 2016. That being the case we encourage our customers to lay in extra of those wines to be sure you have some around until the 2015’s are ready.
We have recently released 2013 Pinot grigio and Traminette and will soon release the 2013 Dry Riesling. Stop by the tasting room and check them out. They are soooo good!