Dr. Dave Miller Michigan Wine Blog
Harvest 2012 at White Pine Winery
It has been a really strange year for weather. March had temperatures more like May with highs in the 80’s and overnight lows in the 60’s for more than a week. That made all the trees and vines start growing much earlier than usual and led to one of the most devastating frost events in history in April. Cherries, apples, peaches and juice grapes crops were reduced by 80% or more. Fortunately for us wine maker’s, wine grapes bud out later than those other crops and there by avoided damage. The growing season had an early start which means it has been a long season. The heat this summer advanced growth even more so that wine grape harvest is one of the earliest in memory. The draught in May through July hurt many field crops but really did not harm grapevines. In fact grapevines like dry conditions. The dry weather came at a time when the berries were growing and caused them to be very small this year. Small berries have a greater amount of skin to juice than big berries and because many of the flavors and aromas are in the skins, small berries lead to intensely flavored wines, and deep color in reds. It is conditions like we are experiencing this year that have led to some of the best vintages in history in Europe! Needless to say we are excited about the wines this year. We believe this going to be another in a string of exceptional vintages in Michigan and will provide us with award winning wines that will let the world know we are serious contenders when it comes to wines. Mark your calendars to try out these wines in 2013. In the meantime...Stop by the tasting room for harvests updates while you enjoy our past efforts that are drinking very nicely now!
As I write this blog I’m looking out the window at a beautiful day, temperatures in the mid 60’s and the forecast is for mid 70’s for the next week. Awesome! I love warm weather and spring as much as anyone and I can hardly wait to get outside and sip a glass of wine on the deck. We are coming off one of the mildest winters in memory (and on record) and now this – spring in the middle of March. So is it all as good as it seems? What does this do to grapevines?
Since we really never had a deep, prolonged freeze this winter the ground never froze solid. Without frozen ground, overwintering plants, like grapevines, start to respond to warm temperatures sometime around the end of January. As plants respond to warmth they come out of their deep, winter dormancy and start getting ready to grow. I observed soft maple trees, which typically bloom around the middle of March, blooming in February this year! Overwintering animals respond to the conditions too. I saw my first Robins in February and the Bluebirds were looking for nesting boxes the second week in March. Maples were tapped in late February too. All of this means that spring is here early and there is no turning back. It’s a great cure for cabin fever but it gives pause to those of us in Agriculture. Why? Our biggest concern is frost. With May 10th the average date for our last frost in this region we have 6 to 8 weeks before we are out of the woods. The vines have not started growing yet but my guess is we’ll see bud burst in early to mid-April, 2 to 3 weeks ahead of average giving us several weeks of frost danger. When the shoots have started growing and get frosted the crop is reduced, the magnitude depends on the severity of the frost.
Now that you all can imagine Jack Frost taking our grapes this year, let me give you the counter – point. An early spring means an early start to the growing season. Some of our best and longest seasons started very much like 2012. A long season means the grapes begin ripening earlier and have longer to hang and mature. That leads to some awesome wines, especially late season reds that need the extra heat to fully mature. Also, the mild winter means there is little to no winter injury in our vines. With no winter injury all of the buds produce shoots with fruit and the stage is set for a big crop. So if we dodge the frost – bullet this spring we are in for a big crop with plenty of time to ripen and lots of great wine. As much as I want to know how it turns out, experience suggests I sip my glass of wine on the deck and enjoy the ride. Time will tell how the story ends. In the meantime we should savor the fruits of our labors from last year. So let’s enjoy the next week of mid 70’s with a glass of our favorite spring-time wine. Pinot grigio or Riesling anyone?
Dr. Dave Miller
14 March 2012
With Thanksgiving just around the corner lots of folks are thinking about what wines go best with the holiday feast. There are a couple of simple rules to follow when purchasing wine to go with a meal. First, the weight of the wine should complement the weight of the food – light wines should go with light foods. Second, wine flavors should complement the flavors of the food. So light, delicate wines go with light delicate foods and more flavorful wines go with more flavorful foods. Finally, for a meal like Thanksgiving one should choose a wine that will please the range of palates seated at the table. That usually means there will be a range of wine consuming experience from the serious wine connoisseur to the occasional wine drinker with little wine knowledge. First, remember that Thanksgiving is a Holiday celebration and celebrations are best with Bubbly! Our new sparkling wine, Effervescence, is a bottle-fermented sparkler made with 100% Chardonnay and finished dry and crisp. The "pop" of the cork is the perfect start for the festivities. Once dinner time rolls around I go to the Reserve Riesling as the wine of choice for Thanksgiving as it satisfies all my choices: it’s white and light so is the perfect accompaniment to poultry; it’s fruity and a little spicy so it can stand up to a sage dressing or cranberry / orange sauce but not overpower the turkey and potatoes; and, finally, it has just a hint of sweetness so it pleases the person who only is willing to drink sweet wines and the sweetness is balanced with acidity in a classic Riesling style to please the true connoisseur.
If one is looking for a completely dry wine the Dry Riesling is an excellent choice in that it compliments Thanksgiving fare beautifully while having no sugar. If you are a red wine fan I always suggest something on the light and fruity side so it doesn't overpower the food. Dune Shadow Red is our dry red blend that's fruit forward, soft and supple. Red Expression has a hint of sweetness and is light, fruity and satisfying. It also makes a delicious, warm, mulled wine with a bit of cinnamon, clove, allspice and orange zest (we have packets ready to go in the tasting room;)). Both will show nicely with your Thanksgiving feast!
For dessert there is only one choice and that is Ice Wine. A small glass with a slice of pumpkin pie and whipped cream is pure heaven. Go ahead and try it if you don’t believe me. If you are having dinner at someone elses house the Ice Wine makes the perfect gift for the hosts.
Remember, Michigan Rieslings and Ice Wines are among the finest in the world! You will simply not find better examples of these wines anywhere. So why not support the local growers and stop in for a taste? We’ll keep some cold for you!
Dr Dave Miller
5 November 2013
White Pine Winery Puts Another Vintage in the History Book
4 November 2013
By Dr. Dave Miller
As a wine maker, now is when I can breathe a sigh of relief. The harvest is done and we can say with certainty that it was an excellent vintage! If we think back to the spring, it was anything but given that this year’s crop would turn out well. With snow through the end of April and growth that was two weeks behind an “average” year it looked as though we were in for a difficult time ripening late season varieties like Cabernet franc and Cabernet sauvignon.
The seemingly continuous rain through May and most of June also seemed like a harbinger of bad news: lots of rain means lots of rot in the fruit and fungal diseases on our vine canopies. All of the rain made the vines grow so fast that we were forced to hedge the canopies and pull leaves to expose the fruit by late June, a month earlier than normal. Our crew had to do the work in the rain because we couldn’t find a dry day for them to work.
As usual it’s easy to imagine all kinds of things that might go wrong before the fruit is mature, harvested and in the tanks. But we also go through something every year (remember the spring frost followed by drought in 2012?) so we are kind of used to this sort of angst. So when the clouds finally parted and the rains stopped in July it was a welcome sight. The dry weather continued through August and into September with lots of sunshine and cool nights.
The earliest varieties began to mature in mid-September in contrast to mid-August the extremely warm 2012 vintage. As the college football season got under way the weather was perfect: warm, dry, sunny days with highs in the low to mid 70’s followed by crisp, cool nights with lows in the upper 40’s to low 50’s. Those conditions are perfect for making sugar but also for retaining acidity in the fruit – important for balanced wines – and producing color in reds. Each day that went by without rain and forecasts for above average temperatures increased the odds that it would be better than a good vintage, it would be exceptional.
Pinot grigio was harvested the third week of September with gorgeous fruit flavors and perfect balance. Then we waited for Riesling. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s we harvested our estate Riesling by October 12th because the leaves had been frosted. The same is true for our Cabernet franc. The past 5 years we have kept the leaves in our vineyard well into November.I guess climate change isn’t all bad. By October 16th the Riesling was beautifully ripened. The sugar was over 21 Brix, and there was still plenty of acid to make our signature Reserve Riesling. The fruit also had a fair amount of Noble Rot – Botrytis – which is associated with some of the worlds best Rieslings. The story just kept getting better! Finally, we wanted to let our Cabernet franc hang as long as the weather was nice so we planned harvest for October26th. Alas, our streak of good luck was coming to an end as the weather turned cold and snow was forecast. So we picked the Cab franc October 22nd with beautiful chemistry and what is destined to be another great wine. Of course the Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet sauvignon and Traminette were great too.
It’s another year for the history books and another great vintage in southwest Michigan. Watch for the 2013 white wines next spring and summer and the 2013 reds to be released in early 2015. In the meantime, come out and enjoy the 2012 whites and the 2011 reds and watch for the 2012 reds early next year.
4 November 2013
By Dr. Dave Miller
From the time we prune the vines in March until the last fermenters are racked, the vineyard and winery are busy…. Very busy places. The vines require regular attention during summer as do the new must and wine following harvest. But winter is a time to slow down and recharge. It is a time of rest for all – the vines, the wines and the people involved. During this time in the wine cellar, it may not look like much is happening but it is really a magical time.
The wines cold stabilize with the drop in temperature. This simply means they won’t develop a tartrate sediment in the bottle when you chill them in your fridge but there is also a drop in acidity which softens the wine and takes off some of the sharp acidity of the new wine. Carbon dioxide from the fermentation comes out of solution during storage which further softens the new wine. The wines also clear as particulate matter slowly drops out of the wines during the months of rest. Other things are happening in the wine now that can’t be seen but can be tasted and felt on the palate. There is a chemical change in the wine as new flavors develop from the interaction of various wine components and the alcohol that developed during fermentation. The changes produce aromas and flavors that begin to make the wine more complex and interesting. In red wines there is a change in the pigments and tannins (compounds that contribute to astringency on the palate) that softens the wines and enhances the color. Wines aging in barrels extract flavor from the wood that also interacts chemically with flavors, aromas and pigments in the wines, further contributing to the complexity in aroma and on the palate.
As we taste the wines from tanks and barrels we can begin to gain a better understanding of what is to come and what the wine might be like when it “grows up”. It’s an exciting time because some of the wines are really good! There is not much to be done by the winemaker at this point, just make sure tanks and barrels are topped and that there is no activity by unwanted spoilage bacteria or oxidation due to headspace in a tank. If we did a good job in the vineyard, had a bit of luck with weather during the fall, and paid attention to winemaking fundamentals, then we know the wines will be special when they are bottled and will only improve over the next couple of years or more, depending on the wine. It really does seem magical to observe the changes occurring to the tasted and feel of the wine.
Then there is the natural beauty of our winter wonderland! Come see for yourself. We'll have some wine to share.