Continuing Cold Could Wreak Havoc On Northern Michigan Grape Harvest, Wine Industry

The cold might be a welcome sight for school kids but it’s not doing Northern Michigan’s wine industry any favors.

Sub-zero temperatures damage grape-growing buds and reduce the size of the harvest.

Reporter Charlie Tinker talked to local wine makers and grape growers about the damaging cold.

Northern Michigan grape growers call it a double whammy.

Last year, bitter cold temperatures devastated the wine industry and history seems to be repeating itself.

“Extremely cold temperatures will cause damage again,” promised Chateau Grand Traverse President Eddie O’Keefe. “But if we get 20 below zero again, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Here at Chateau Grand Traverse, last year’s brutal winter cut the grape yield by more than 80 percent–

“The buds were basically ruined, so we had very low tonnage,” said O’Keefe.

This cold February’s bringing back some bad memories.

“We have one shot a year,” said O’Keefe. “We harvest the grapes and that’s our whole inventory. When you start dipping below five below zero, those are the critical temperatures that won’t necessarily kill the vine but cause bud damage and the buds are what develop into grapes.”

That’s because snow insulates the vines themselves but there’s nothing to protect the grape-growing part of the plant.

This is the concern. This is the actual bud right here and when cold gets inside of this, it can kill it along with its ability to grow grapes. Fewer grapes mean less wine to go around.

Lower yields impact the winery’s bottling operation–which means that other places like New York, Chicago, even China might soon see far less of it.

“In the next 18 months, you might see a reduction in production,” said Marketing Coordinator Elizabeth Smith. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not going to see it in your local wine shops, but you might see less growth in out of state markets.”

Damage, growers say, is unavoidable.

“It’s just part of making wine in Northern Michigan,” laughed Smith.

It’s the extent of that damage that remains to be seen.