Friday, February 03, 2006

Minnesota Grape Growers Association Cold climate Grape and Wine Conference …. And a break in the “heat” wave.

(NOTE if you are looking for Minnesota Grape Grower Association here is the link Not sure why google is directing everyone to this page instead of that one? But look around if you like.)

Today is the first day of the MGGA Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference. As last year, it has already proven to be well worth it.

Okay … the weather on the drive in wasn’t the greatest, but from what I heard from others, it sounded like I beat the worst of it. I left Madison about 6:45 am this morning and arrived in Rochester, MN around 10:00 am the drive was fine up until the last 30 miles, when rain started freezing on my car and road. Luckily traffic was light and I made it to the Kahler Grand Hotel safe and sound. Looks like our 40+ day streak of 30F or higher is over.

This afternoon’s talks were about:

-Grape Diseases

-Grape Pests (primarily of the bug variety)

-Grape Growing Keys to success

-Vineyard Fertilization

-Vineyard Economics

So far all of this year's presentations were presented by “academics.” Last year it was nice to get the mix real life grower experiences along with the academics, but I really enjoyed this years more academic approach.

First a quick summary of each talk, then a little more info:

Grape Diseases:

Black Rot and Downy Mildew 2 top grape diseases in Illinois. Moisture in general bad. Get a handle on them early.

Grape Pests

Fairly easy to deal with it… the longer and more common grapes are grown in the Midwest, the more there will be.

Grape Growing Keys to success

Location, Location, Location …. Oh and use good vineyard practices

Vineyard Fertilization

Preparation, preparation, preparation … i.e. get it right before you plant

Vineyard Economics

So you want to start a vineyard … you must be crazy

The WINE reception

Drink wine, talk, drink some more wine, talk some more, drink more wine

Okay … now a little more detail on what I remember the most from each talk.

Grape Diseases (the longer version)

Presented by Dr. Mohammad Babadoost

This was a great talk. I gained a greater understanding of how to deal with some of the disease issues that I have had in my vineyard. Specifically, I learned that I have spots of Anthracnose scattered throughout my vineyard. This was something that I noticed, but despite my research I hadn’t been able to identify it … seems easy to deal with. Liquid lime sulfur should take care of this … should be sprayed while vines are dormant … I will probably do this in March.

Several literature resources were also provided, and I will probably try to get some of those.

And finally some suggest spray schedules were provided that I may draw upon. Over all very educational. He mentioned that Black Rot and Downey mildew were the two biggest diseases in Illinois, but it has clearly been a different story at my vineyard.

Grape Pests

Dr. Bill Shoemaker

Very interesting, but luckily most or all of the pests that were discussed have not been an issue in my vineyard … that is except for Deer. Rose chafers were not even mentioned …. Am I the only one that these buggers attacked!!!?

He also mentioned that we are still learning about which pests will be issues in the future. As more grapes are planted, and the longer they are in this area, new pests will emerge as problems.

Grape Growing Keys to success

Eli Bergmeier

Another great talk, but not enough time to cover all that he had…. He could have easily gone another hour, and not covered all of his topics.

He mentioned that two of the biggest reasons for Vineyard Failure are Site selection and weeds …. Yes WEEDS ! He showed an example of how a site with poor cold air drainage had a frost 2-3 weeks earlier than another nearby location with good cold air drainage, and 3 late spring frosts versus the location with good drainage, that only had one!

He also touched on the wetness of the location … not much new here for me.

He also talked a bit about planting …. He used an auger similar to me, but I learned that something called glazing can occur. … This is when the sides of the auger hole are wet and compacted, and create a clay pot situation … I don’t think this has been an issue for me, since my soil has a good organic matter content (~2%) …i.e. not too high, and is relatively loamy.

Time was running short, and I wish he would have spent more time on trellising, but I have enough info from the handouts so I can study them.

Vineyard Fertilization:

Dr. Paul Domoto

If I had to choose a favorite section, it wouldn’t be easy, but this would be it. I liked this talk so much, because this was information I was desperate for. I had my petiole and soil and analysis done this year, but I felt like it was not interpreted well enough, and the significance of certain things were not clear to me.

Dr. Domoto broke down the ideal values for the types of cultivars grown in this climate. Bottom line …. My Potasium is way too low, but I knew this. That is why I added the soil amendment this fall. And by PH is too high. 6.0-6.5 is ideal, mine is about 7.0.

Of course I should have made my adjustments prior to planting … which I did with my latest vines, but the little additional info I have now, would have been a big help.

Here are my numbers compared to the ideal

Petiole Nutrient


My Vineyard


.9 - 1.3 %



.16 - .29 %



1.5-2.5 %



1.2-1.8 %



.26-.45 %



>.1 %



30 - 50 ppm



25-50 ppm



31-150 ppm



31-50 ppm



5 - 15 ppm


Soil Sample

Soil ph

6 - 6.5



2 - 3 %


Vineyard Economics

Dr. Bill Shoemaker

The last talk also by Dr. Shoemaker, was kind of a reality check …. Basically… be prepared to not make any money for a while. You really need to plan and treat this vineyard like a business …. Maybe obvious, but you really need a business plan. I wrote one up a while ago, but I realize now, that I need to add much more detail. I asked the guy next to me (Kent), who hasn’t started his vineyard yet, but is in the planning stages … “ So did he scare you?” he said “nope” …. I thought …. I already made most of the mistakes he mentioned, and so hey … bring it on!.

The Reception

The talks were great, but the reception Friday evening was another thing to look forward to. This gave everyone a great opportunity to mingle, learn, and sample many different wines.

I talked a bit with Mark Hart from Bayfield, WI … he’s a grape breeder on the shore of lake Superior. I asked him a bunch of questions about grape hardiness as it relates to warm and cold spells. He said the biggest risk are big fluctuations … more so than the extremes … well not too extreme. He said that when we go from warm (50+) to very cold –10F over a short period of time, that is more damaging than a slow progression from one to the other. Good to know.

Then there was the wine …. I would have to say that some of the amatures matched or easily surpassed some of the commercial wineries. Tasted some very interesting blush style wines, some very good whites, and a lot of good reds … probably tried 20 or 30 total …. Definitely had to dump and pace myself. Tasted a very good Frontenac, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfindale blend. Couple of good Frontenac … some not as good Foch. And a couple of amature wines that were better than some of the big guys.

More tomorrow.

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