Local grape growers thrilled about this year's harvest

By: Matt Hoffman Email
By: Matt Hoffman Email

A worsening drought and a killing freeze from this past weekend weren't enough to sour the grapes at area vineyards. Riverbend Winery in Chippewa Falls says this has been their best growing season ever.
Earlier this summer this vineyard looked green and vibrant up until last week. Then the weekend hit...the temperature dropped to 25 degrees and within 24 hours the vineyard looked like this.

In a normal year, a killing freeze like this would spell bad news for the grape harvest. Not this year. Because of the long, hot summer for the first time they were able to pick the grapes because they were ready, not because of the threat of a freeze.

"This year we had the luxury of picking completely due to ripeness not due to frost. We had everything picked by September 15th. We had about a 4 week window where we could go through and test the different varieties and decide which ones were ready, which ones hang a little longer and then schedule picking crews accordingly," explains owner and winemaker Donna Sachs. The vineyard also escaped the frosts from April because the grapes were still dormant then.

Some of her grape varieties produced three times the yield they have in the past. She says the fermentation of her grapes is already complete. When it comes to how this wine will turn out after such a great growing season...she doesn't have much history to go off of…

"We were able to pick at what we would consider optimal ripeness so i would think that would only make things better and easier to deal with in the cellar from a wine maker's prospective," says Sachs.

The vineyard can now focus on some fall cleaning including composting, a fall nutrient feed, and other maintenance. "The fact the grapes are picked that really alleviates a lot of the stress."

Then there’s more good news for Sachs. The long stretch of beautiful fall weather has kept the winery and tasting room busy.

"We have beautiful hills around us that turn color so even though the leaves will fall off the grape vines, the hills around us are gorgeous so as long as the weather stays nice the winery will stay nice and busy."

Villa Bellezza Winery and Vineyard in Pepin says they are also thrilled about the grapes they've harvested this year. Last year they harvested 80 tons of grapes and they expect to harvest more this year. Meanwhile, some of the Riverbend wines using this year’s grapes will be available by next May.

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