I was waiting for the call to come from Elizabeth at Chateau Grand Traverse for about 5 days. Each day seemed cold enough to me, the thermometer registering below 32 degrees with bone numbing breezes off of the lakes, but what did I know? I'm not a wine maker, but I do love wine. So I stay immersed in the wine culture of Northern Michigan. The wine making that is happening up north is absolutely first class. This wonderful region sports just the right climate of cold to occasionally produce an excellent Ice Wine, and lots of wineries up north are willing to take the gamble. The payoff can be great. Chateau Grand Traverse had set aside 10 rows of Reisling grapes for Ice Wine in 2016, their preferred and esteemed grape. As it closed in on the holidays, the harvest seemed imminent. Lots of things have to fall into place for the harvest to happen. It has to be freezing cold, for one.
I got the call on a morning that was crisp and clear, sunny even and the thermometer at my house read 8 degrees. I had to hurry, as the harvest would only take about 2-3 hours to complete. I put on my warmest coat, heaviest socks and doubled up on mittens with hand warmers and left the house. I looked like I was ready to tumble down a snow covered mountain, but in reality, I was expecting to be outside for a few hours, trudging through deep snow and I didn't want my hands to fall off.
When I got to Chateau Grand Traverse, I joined a flurry of activity outside in the field. Tasting room staff, office personnel, vineyard workers, Eddie and even the winemaker himself, Bernd were out in the field picking grapes. It was too cold to talk, and everyone seemed deep into the awareness of a chilly harvest, so I slowly made my way around the vineyard stopping every hither and thither to make a photograph.
It was a beautiful morning in the vineyard.
Snow brushed aside, buckets filling, the healthy looking clusters of Reisling grapes that still hung on the vine were partially frozen. All of the water inside the individual grape freezes, but the sweet juice doesn't. When the grapes are pressed while frozen, the juice is a delicious liquid sugar. Winemaker Brend calls it "the nectar of the Gods". His enthusiasm for this harvest was evident. He was at once absorbed and light with affection for the grapes.
All of the grapes were harvested by hand. The entire 10 rows were picked within a few hours, and at a moments notice, on a Monday morning that would soon barely register 20 degrees.
I never tire of looking at the view from Chateau Grand Traverse over Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan.
With the picking nearly complete, the grapes were loaded in buckets and onto a tractor to take up to the press room of the winery. The harvest work was done.
2016 looks like a fantastic harvest in every sense of the word. Making Ice Wine is such a delicate dance between a growing season of healthy grapes and waiting for the frigid cold temperatures of winter to arrive. After all, the long wait invites various obstacles; birds, raccoons and deer, even sleet or other inclement weather can break the skin of the grape ruining the entire harvest. This year was perfection in every sense of the word! I'm sure that everyone at Chateau Grand Traverse is looking forward to a delicious vintage.
And I am too.