Harvest unclear for Michigan vineyards after severe storms

Vineyards in northwest Michigan are grappling with the possibility that they might lose their entire grape crop after severe storms blew through the area last weekend.

On Sunday, three rounds of storms brought hail and strong winds of up to 100 mph. Apple, cherry and grape crops were hit hard in the Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula and the fruit belt near Elk Rapids.

“We’ve had hail before, but it’s been spotty. This is just so widespread. Nobody dodged the bullet,” said Mark Johnson, vintner at Chateau Chantal in Traverse City, located on the Old Mission Peninsula.

Most of the state’s grape crops already were weakened by harsh conditions the past two winters. Many vineyards already were expecting diminished yields, especially after a hard freeze May 22.

“We kind of felt that after the winter, we might have 50 percent of a crop,” Johnson said. “Then, we had the hard freeze that put us down to maybe 25 percent.”

But the hail on Sunday made prospects much for grim for the region’s winemakers, because grapes hit by hail essentially shatter and turn quickly brown.

Chateau Chantal is among the vineyards that have crop damage from the storms. Now, the company is operating on the assumption there may be no grape crop, Johnson told MLive.com.

Although some of the grapes are all right, Johnson said there might not be enough to justify a harvest.

“We don’t know, right now, at what point it’s economically feasible to still harvest,” he said.

The vineyards at Bel Lago Vineyard & Winery on the Leelanau Peninsula also had some hail damage, according to a worker, who also noted the already weak crop conditions caused by frigid temperatures the previous winter.

Johnson said he’ll likely have to look for grapes elsewhere to continue making wine this fall, and he would prefer to get them from southwest Michigan, but thinks those vineyards also will face a grape shortfall.

“We certainly want to make sure that people know the doors will remain open,” Johnson said.

Some smaller vintners in northern Michigan might have to consider dropping wine-making operations because of the last two season’s hardships, he said.  (AP)

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