Tuesday, December 03, 2013

First ice wine grape harvest at Sampson Valley Vineyard

Ice wine grapes Thanksgiving 2013
Early Thanksgiving morning (11/28), while the temperatures hovered in the upper teens and low 20s, I harvest about 125 lbs of ice wine grapes.   This is the first ice wine grape harvest in the ten year history of the vineyard.    It was an experiment, (somewhat forced).   The grapes looked beautiful.    In this round of harvest, I picked primarily st pepin which I still had netted.   They were about 20 brix at the end of the growing season, but came in at about 29.5 after crush and press when I picked them for the ice wine.   There is about another 400 lbs of lacrosse, but unnetted.   But even though they are not under nets, they look good.
Cold calm day at Sampson Valley Vineyard

Lacrosse grapes

Since I was harvesting for myself, and not a commercial winery, I processed them too.    I was not entirely sure of the whole process, but was somewhat limited by the equipment that I had.   Since the temperatures were not in the single digits, the grapes were more of a snow cone/milk shake consistency, not hard marbles, like many ice wine makers deal with.   This was probably a good thing, since my crusher-destemmer and wood basket press would probably not have worked.

 I easily picked 125 lbs in about an hour (3 lugs full).   I probably could have picked a lot more, but had to get back for Thanksgiving dinner at 3:00.
St Pepin grapes

A very friendly black and white cat came out to help.... it hung out the entire time I was picking.   It even climbed a trellis pole to get a better view.   Maybe he was guarding the grapes for the last couple of months?   I probably didn't need the net!
St Pepin grapes with their guardian cat

Ready to pounce?
Crushing went slowly, and the destemmer sieve got pretty caked with the frozen must.   Unfortunately, the picture is slightly blurry and doesn't do the golden must justice.   Very little juice was visible as I crushed.
Thick ice wine slurry/must

Must before pressing.   Just a bit of juice after crushing.
At the end of pressing, I had a total of 3 gallons of very sweet juice.  The taste was wonderful!   Juice yield was probably a bit higher than it should have been.   I attribute that to the temperatures warming to the low 20s as I crushed and pressed.

I added a bit of potassium metabisulfite, and let the juice sit until Saturday morning.   I inoculated the juice with KV-1116 yeast.   Fermentation started slowly, but is now humming along well.   I plan to pull about 1/2 gallon of wine out early before fermentation is complete, and bottle it in small sparkling wine bottles, and try to make a sparkling ice wine.   The rest will be a more traditional ice wine.

There are another 400-500 lbs still in the field, and if I don't sell them, hopefully I will be able to pick them while they are still prime.

This will definitely become an annual tradition!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

2013 harvest round 1 ... done

Picking Marquette grapes at Sampson Valley Vineyard
September 28, 2013

What a great day for a harvest! ....  What a spectacular turnout!  ....   The harvest party at Sampson Valley Vineyard was  incredible this year.    We harvested over 6,500 lbs in about 7 hours.   The weather was almost perfect.  We worked like crazy, and got a lot done.

Most of the grapes were taken by Leigh's Garden Winery, and some by Vines and Rushes Winery.   Definitely check out these two wineries.   Top notch wines and great people.

We still have to harvest Frontenac for Leigh's Garden Winery on Saturday, Oct 12.   The rest of the grapes are destined for home winemakers, and maybe a few for myself.

I added a bunch of other pictures from the weekend below.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Ripening progress

We measured our sugars today. (numbers below are brix"

La crescent (8 year old vines): 19.5. 
La crescent (6 year old vines): 19.0.    
Foch 16.5.   
Frontenac: 16.0.   
Marquette: 20.4.   
Prairie Star: 16.0 
LaCrosse:  13.0
St Pepin: 15.0

Harvest day target is 9/28.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Nets are on! Veraison going well.

We finished netting all of the grapes yesterday.   It's always a good feeling when the nets are all finally on.    At this point in the season we take a rest from canopy management.   Fungicide spraying usually slows by this time too.    Now we need to hope for good weather until harvest.

Veraison on Marquette is complete, frontenac and foch should be complete soon.   Lacrescent, prairie star and st pepin are further along than I would have thought given the late start.   If weather remains good, we should have an excellent harvest.  (currently scheduled for September 28)
Marquette on Aug 24

Frontenac on Aug 24

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Veraison progressing well

The first signs of veraison appeared on August 7 in Marquette.  By August 17,  veraison is nearly complete in Marquette (greater than 75%) and Frontenac is over half complete.   Foch has not yet reached 50%.  We are expecting at least a week of temperatures in the eighties.   Hopefully the heat will accelerate ripening.    

The nets started going up on Saturday.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

It was Hail!

Last week I posted about some unusual splitting of grapes at the end of July.   After a bit of research, we have come to the conclusion that damage was caused by hail. 

The following evidence points to hail:
-the damage was not there on Thursday (7/25), but was very apparent on Saturday (7/26).
-the weather system that passed by the vineyard had echos greater than 60 dbz (this is often an indication of hail.)
-upon searching for grape damage from hail, I found the following blog with nearly identical damage that I saw http://www.notavivavineyards.com/weblog/archives/2008/07/hail_damage.html
-nearly all the damage was on the exposed side of the grape bunches.

I'm hopeful that the damage occurred early enough that the affected berries will just dry up, and not be a vector for disease.   The limited research I have performed points to that idea.   Now I need to hope for good ripening weather.

My first Japanese beetle

There herrrreee!

Well, they finally made it to Sampson.  I found my first Japanese beetle in the vineyard on Thursday, August 1.   The lone beetle was found on my Marquette vines.   I tried to get a picture, but it dropped to the ground before I could get my phone focused. 

I'm less concerned about Japanese beetles compared to Rose Chafers.   The Japanese beetles are an issue later in the season, and cause mostly cosmetic damage.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Veraison just around the corner?

Veraison has begun in Madison.   Bud break in Madison preceded Sampson by about 10 days, and bloom in Madtown was about week before it occurred in Sampson.   I predict we should start seeing the first signs of veraison in Sampson in next week or two.

The picture below is from today and showd the veraison progress in the seedless grape Reliance growing in my front yard in Madison.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Something new

St Pepin cluster with split berries.

We had a a fairly heavy rain on Friday (7/26).   The first significant rain in about 2 weeks.   As I was walking through the vineyard I noticed several split berries.   I've never seen split berries at this point in the season.   I assume that it is due to the recent rain, but I am not certain.    It looks like about 10% of the St Pepin berries are affected.   Maybe 5% of the La Crescent and 5% of the Foch.   Most other cultivars don't have any splitting.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bloom has begun!

 Bloom has just begun.  About 5% of the 5 year old Marquette, 6 year old Frontenac, and 6 year old La Crescent have begun to bloom.   This is about 4 days behind the vines in Madison.   

The Rose Chafers have also returned.  I only spotted 3 total,  but all three were on a new planting of Frontenac Blanc.   This is only a couple of days later than average, and about 10 days later than last year.

Jack Ford and I tried to get some work done this evening, but then a short burst of thunderstorms went through didn't let us get much done.   We did get to see  a nice rainbow though.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pruning done, New vines planted, anniversary, bud break and frost

It has been a crazy busy month.   Since I haven't had time to write in weeks, I'm cramming 5 blog entries into one.

We finally finished pruning April 27.   That is about 1 month later than usual.    Only a week and a half earlier we still had a few inches of snow in the vineyard.   The vines looked very healthy.   We saw essentially no winter kill.   This was not surprising since the vines went into the winter very healthy, and the winter was not very severe  (although it was long).   The buds were just barely swelling on April 28.
Marquette Bud swell on April 28.

I ordered 500+ vines for planting April 27, but I had to delay the shipment a couple of weeks.   The vines arrived the week of May 6-10.   I got 240 Petite Pearl, 240 Frontenac Blanc, and 66 sommerset seedless.

Petite Pearl is a red wine grape.   There has been a lot of buzz surrounding this new cultivar.    I haven't decided if I am going to train as VSP or Single High Cordon.   The grape is fairly new, but I thought I would give it a try since I have been a bit disappointed with Marquette, both with its behavior in the vineyard, and as a wine.   The Marquette vine tends throw a lot of lateral shoots, and requires a lot attention to keep it in check.   It has also been surprisingly susceptible to black rot.   Wines made from Marquette have not impressed me so far, but I have talked to several growers who have said they have had great bottles.   I need to find some of those before I plant any more Marquette.

Frontenac Blanc is a white wine grape.    I planted it because I needed a more productive hardy white wine grape in the vineyard.   Viticulturally it is suppose to be very similar to Frontenac (or Frontenac Noir as some people call it), from which it is a single bud mutation.   I have liked Frontenac in the vineyard, but I am not a huge fan of the wines, unless it is made in a port style, or as a blush/rose style.

Sommerset Seedless will be the second seedless cultivar in the vineyard.   I have been growing Concord seedless for nearly 9 years.   The flavor profile of Sommerset seedless will be very different from the concord seedless.   It will have little or no Vitis labrusca flavor.  (that foxy Welches grape flavor).   I plan on planting several other seedless varieties in the next few years.   I currently grow Marquis, Reliance, and Himrod, at my house.   I may try some of these at the vineyard.  I've only had fruit from Marquis so far, but should have fruit on all three this year.   Bud break at my house was on Cinco De mayo.   About a week and a half later than normal.

I planted the sommerset seedless and Petite Pearl on the weekend of May 10-12.    The remaining Frontenac Blanc vines were planted May 18 and 19.   All vines were dug using a 12" auger and were dug about 4 feet deep to get through the hard pan.   Since the holes were so large, I was able to keep the roots intact and did not really need much trimming.
grape vine planter (12" auger)

Sampson Valley Vineyard is 10 years old!!!   May 10, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary since the first vines were planted at Sampson Valley Vineyard.   The exact day in 2003 came somewhat as a surprise to me, since I didn't remember the date the first vines were planted.   A few weeks ago, I went through my old emails to figure out the date.   I was surprised to discover that the first vines were planted May 10, 2003!    Although my wife doesn't believe me, it was entirely a coincidence that we got married 5 years to the day that the first vines were planted (May 10, 2008).   Since I had to delay the planting two weeks this spring,  the latest vines begun to be planted on May 10, 2013.   So I spent my 5th wedding anniversary planting grapes at the Vineyard .... or as my wife calls the vineyard .... "the other woman".

Bud break on most of the grape cultivars occurred May 15-17.   This is about 1 and a half weeks behind last year, and about 2 weeks later than normal.    This is still earlier than the latest bud break over the last 10 years, which occurred on May 21 one year.   Based on bud break, even with a hot year, I am looking at a harvest date in late September at the earliest.  A cold summer, may mean an early October harvest.
You would think we would be safe from frost by May 24, but that morning we had a frost.   Luckily, most of the damage was minor.   May be a few leaves of the foch in the lowest row.   We estimate about 10% damage.   The temperature on Friday morning got to 33.6F at my weather station.   The west vineyard is about 10-20 ft lower, and the the max min thermometer actually read about 25F.  Another vineyard about 10 miles East North East of my vineyard saw little damage, with the exception of their Frontenac Blanc which saw severe damage. 
Sampson, WI Weather Station Chart from May 24.

I will have a more in depth look at the frost event in a future entry.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Propagating grape vines

This year I am trying something new, well new to me anyways; I am attempting to propagate some grape vines. Actually, this isn't really my first attempt, I made an attempt a few years ago. That attempt involved following some instructions from other growers and a little that I read. That attempt resulted in zero% success. My attempt this year was my first serious attempt with a commercial product.

The method of propagation commonly used for grape vines, involve obtaining a cutting from the desired cultivar, and then putting it in the appropriate environment to establish a root system so that it can be later planted in the vineyard.

My plan this year was to propagate a few different cultivars to replace some vines (about 100 vines total) that died shortly after planting, mainly st pepin and prairie star.
Before I go any further, I need to mention that many popular cultivars are patented and you can not legally propagate patented cultivars without a license/permission. The vine breeders do a great job developing new cultivars, seek permission before propagating a patent cultivar. Even if they request a fee, it will still be cheaper to propagate yourself. The cultivars I mentioned here ( st pepin and prairie star) are no longer protected by a patent.

The commercial product I used to do the propagation was made by Pronto Plant. I saw their product at the Wisconsin Grape Growers annual conference. I had already planned to buy the root stock from one of my "go to" suppliers, but I did the math, and realized that to do the propagation myself I could save about $400 and was definitely the route to go. Pronto Plant's complete system was in the $55-$60 range (check amazon for the latest pricing). So I was looking at a cost of about .50 to .60 per vine. That's 1/5 to 1/10 the cost to buy from a nursery! (Note I will still buy vines from commercial nurseries, but usually only cultivars that are patented or for which I don't have cuttings.)
The Pronto Plant kit consisted of 110 soil filled biodegradable cylinders and a reusable crate that holds them. They also sell a jar of rooting gel. I got that also. ( I don't recall what they charge for that.... I think about $5 -$10). Although it is not required, I also bought a heating mat from Menards for about $15.

One tiny criticism of the product, some basic instructions were available, but some more detailed instructions for first time propagaters would have been useful. However, their sales team was extremely responsive, so questions I had were quickly answered.

I did make at least a couple of mistakes.
1. I started the cuttings too early. I started them at the end of January, but I probably should have started them in mid March.
2. I put them in a closed small 2'x1.5'x5' indoor greenhouse. A small fan should have also been used. I had some mold issues after about 5 weeks.

My results..... I had a 85% (or greater) success rate. It was probably closer to 95% before the mold issues, still, I think pretty good for a first time propagater. Of course, I guess I can't really call them a success until I have them in the ground and growing, but so far I have been very impressed with the Pronto Plant system.

Note: I have not been promised or given any compensation regarding the product mentioned above. These are just my experiences with it. I took the time to mention my experiences because I had good success with it and the company is a small local company. (They are out of Green Bay)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Snow is finally melting, it's pruning time again!

Pruning LaCrescent on March 23, 2013
We are getting a late start on pruning this year, but things are moving along.  Last year we had the hottest March on record, this year paid us back with a cold one.  

It remains to be seen if bud break will be delayed, but things can move quickly.

We decided to make some modifications to our pruning this year.   We had good production on some cultivars, poor on others, so we decided to make some adjustments.

2012 yields

Cultivar Yield per vine in lbs Training System
Foch 14.6 SHW
LaCrosse 11.8 ½ SHW        ½ VSP
Frontenac 10.9 VSP
St Pepin 8.7 SHW
Prairie Star 8.6 VSP
Marquette 4.6 VSP
LaCrescent 3.5 VSP

SHW = Single High Wire  
VSP = Vertical Shoot Positioned

Foch is an incredible producer.  Reliable and disease resistant.   We will probably stick with the same bud count as last year (~50-60 buds per vine.)

LaCrosse is our mystery cultivar.  In 2011, we could not get it close to ripe.  We pruned it very severely in the spring of 2012.  (maybe 15-30 buds.)  But we still had a nice harvest.   Quality was the best I have seen in 10 years!  We will probably use a similar strategy this year.

Frontenac.  Had a very nice harvest.   We will probably shoot for a similar bud count as last year. ~50-60 buds.

Prairie Star. We are bumping up the bud count slightly.   Not sure what caused the lower yield last year.
-maybe poor polination
-poor nutrients (it is in the sandiest part of the vineyard)
-rose chafer damage during polination
Quality was excellent however.

Marquette yield was poor.   We will probably try to bump that up from 50 to 60-65 this year.

LaCrescent.   Horrible yield.   Good quality.   We left a lot of buds on this year.  Close to 80 per vine.