Vineyard & Winemaking FAQ'S
Do grapes need a frost to ripen?
Absolutely not. There are early and late season varieties, an early season grape left on the vine until frost will be mushy and overripe. Once a frost hits the vine and all the leaves are burned off, any further photosynthesis or ripening will cease. Due to the high sugar level in the grape it may not be damaged by the frost but will soon start to decay, just like any other fruit not refrigerated.
What time of the year should I prune my vines?
Grape vines may be pruned any time that the leaves are off and they are dormant. Many vineyards with huge acres of vines to prune may work all winter, but we prefer to prune in the spring. In the spring, any winter damage that has occurred will be visible and pruning adjustments will be made.
We prune our vines in April when the high school youths are out of school. About 20+ youths work all week and we get the pruning and tying job completed.
Grapevine Pruning Pictorial
Can grapevines survive very cold weather?
Yes - But there are a lot of variables.
Grapevines are rated according to their hardiness. The USDA rates growing areas from 1 to 11 with 1 being the coldest. Most of the vines that we grow have a hardiness rating of from 3 to 6. These kind of vines can survive winters with temperatures below zero, some doing better than others. Typical average minimum temperatures in our Dryden, Michigan (Southern Lapeer County) are -10 to -15 degrees.
Other factors affect winter hardiness of vines such as stress during the previous growing season due to lack of heat, too little rainfall, weed control and proper pruning.
During late fall/early winter it is important that the vines are hardened off properly. Going from warm temps suddenly to very cold temperatures can cause lots of winter damage. A nice steady fall of temperature and then steady all winter is ideal.
The winter damage sometimes can be pruned away leaving a normal crop, but other times the trunks or buds do not grow at all.
How do you propagate grape vines?
Grape vines are propagated by taking dormant shoots pruned off during the spring. These 3 to 4 bud long cuttings are planted in garden soil and grown one year. The next year they are ready to plant in your vineyard. They will be the same variety as the vine that they were taken from.
If you try to grow grapes by planting the seeds, the resulting vine may not be the same as where the fruit originated from. It will be a combination of the original vine and a nearby pollinating vine. This is how grape breeders breed new varieties.
What do grape blossoms smell like?
Walking through the vineyard when it is in full bloom is a unique experience. The scent is slightly more subtle than other fruits.
Each flower blossom will develop into a separate berry.
The flowers are wind pollinated. Most people assume that our honeybees pollinate the vineyard, but I rarely see a honeybee in the grapes during full bloom
Can you grow organic grapes? What fertilizer and spray programs do you use in the vineyard?
Grapes can be grown organically but we are not completely organic at our farm. We use normal grape growing procedures and a spray schedule set up by the Michigan State University. We stop spraying completely about a month before harvest.
Growing the more than 20 varieties makes organic grape growing difficult as some of the varieties are very sensitive to disease pressure. If we had a solid block of one resistant variety, such as concord, it could be possible.
No grower likes to apply any chemical that he does not need. It takes a lot of effort and it is very expensive.
Some people have been told that all you have to do is stop using fertilizers and sprays. That is not always true.
Each year the chemical companies are creating more useful organic materials that we can use and we use them whenever possible.
We prefer to grow quality and healthy fruit according to the guidelines based by Michigan State University.
How can you have rows of white grapes planted next to rows of red grapes? Won't that make the fruit pink?
If you have ever grown squash or melons this question makes a lot of sense. I was asked it once by the UPS man.
The cross pollination of the grape berries (by wind) will only affect the seeds and not the flesh of the fruit.
If you plant the seeds, the new vine will not be true to the original.
Can I get grapes to make "Ice Wine" at Honeyflow Farm?
No - Due to the timing of our harvest season, they are not available.
Ice wines are made from grapes harvested very late, probably in November in our area. The clusters are harvested and pressed half frozen. They are usually infected with botrytis rot which can also cause the sugar content of the berries to increase. This very sweet juice is usually made into a sweet dessert wine. The grape grower takes a big chance in holding grapes this long before harvesting, many things can go wrong, and therefore the wine becomes very expensive. Vignoles is a variety that can be used for this purpose.
What is your favorite grape?
We get this asked of us all the time. Which grape makes the best wine, best jelly, best juice, etc. This is very difficult to answer & also varies from season to season. Many of our customers have very different tastes than we do.
My personal favorites as of April, 2007:
- Red wine: Frontenac is new at our vineyard and the wine I have had from it is very good. Baco Noir is another of my personal favorites.
- White wine: Vignoles is a very solid white wine variety and improves many others in a blend. Many people have made vignoles as a very sweet "Ice Wine" type - but that is not how I like it. Recently we have been drinking a lot of VERY NICE FRESH Cayuga and Niagara.
See White Winemaking - The story continues.....
- Blue/Black Jelly grape: New York Muscat is a wonderful blue jelly grape with a muscat flavor. Unfortunately it does not bear a heavy crop and we only have two rows.
- White Seedless: Lakemont has beautiful clusters and I like the fact that it is not bothered by birds as much as others.
- Red Seedless: Suffolk Red tastes excellent, lasts a long time on the vines in our vineyard, it is not bothered by birds and our customers love it. It makes a very good raisin.
How is our vineyard different than others?
I do not know any other vineyard that has more than 20 varieties of grapes and sells 100% U-PICK! Since we are not a winery we do not keep the premium grapes for ourselves and sell what is left to local customers.
YOU are our only customers! The majority of our vineyard is sold to home winemakers with the rest sold for table and jelly grapes. Since we are also home winemakers we know what grapes will work for you.
You can also experiment with the many new and old varieties that we have available. It is truly an experience being able to mix and match and create some wonderful wines. View our Main Vineyard Page to pick from Red Wine Grapes, White Wine Grapes or Table Grapes.
Do you recommend oak barrels for winemaking?
Oak barrels can be very useful in winemaking, but they can be problematic and I prefer glass carboys.
Oak barrels are excellent for large amounts of wine such as 55 gallons. The ration of air to wine is just right. When you use smaller barrels the wine may easily become over-oaked and oxidized. They also take a lot of care to make sure you do not create vinegar bacteria.
I much prefer gallon glass carboys, they are much easier to clean and sanitize.
You can make multiple batches of different kinds of wine. Each wine is unique. If you make 55 gallons of one wine and it does not turn out the way you want it - you are stuck with it. Our more than 20 varieties of wine make small batch winemaking very interesting.
Do the vines need the honeybees for pollination?
This question was prompted by an interesting question sent to us:
Hi Honeyflow farm,
I'm a beekeeping hobbyist in South Carolina. This weekend I was looking in to the relationship between vineyards and bees, wondering about pollination. I never found anything, but it looks as if y'all might know.
Do wine grapes require the kind of pollination that bees do? If so, has anyone come up with the idea of marketing honey associated with a certain grape? I can just see the Napa valley tasting shops selling Cabernet Honey at $8/lb. Also, do you grow your grapes organically and if not, how do you protect the bees from vineyard pesticides?
Response - Interesting ideas. The bees that we keep at our farm have no connection to the vineyard. The grapes do not need bees to be pollinated - they are wind pollinated.
We rarely see honeybees in the vineyard during bloom. Most of the time, like now, we do not even have honeybees on our property - they are at 10 different locations (farms) in the surrounding counties.
We do not grow completely organic grapes. No farmer should be spraying any insecticides where there are flowers in the area - that would kill bees. We only spray insecticides about 2-3 times/year and never in bloom or when there are bee attractive blossoms on the ground.
How is Rose' wine different from white or red wine?
The color in wine comes from contact with the grape skins. The longer the contact, the more body and color will develop in the wine.
Most white wine is not fermented on the skins, the grapes (red or white) are crushed and pressed and only the juice is fermented.
Rose' wine is very similar in character to white wine. Sometimes it is only fermented a few hours on the skins and then pressed.
How can I get the vinegar smell out of pails and barrels?
It is extremely difficult to get vinegar bacteria out of containers.
Someone recently told me that they picked some nice grapes at our vineyard and used pickle pails that were available. The wine they made tasted like vinegar.
I know there are certain chemicals that are sold to improve barrels but I really think clean glass containers are the best. Many barrels are best suited for landscaping. Oak can be added to wine using oak chips.
Do Michigan vines need to be grafted?
Most vinifera vines that are grown (such as Cabernet, Reisling, etc) need to be grafted on to a strong rootstock because they are not tolerant of the Phloxera louse, a pest that will kill the vines. Most all vines in California and any vinifera vine grown in Michigan are grafted for this reason.
French Hybrid (Seyval, Baco Noir, etc) and American varieties (Concord, Niagara, etc) are tolerant of Phloxera and do not need to be grafted.
Some vines are grafted on to vigourous rootstock to improve their vigour. We are experimenting with grafting some weaker growing varieties, such as Ny. Muscat on to Concord rootstock in our vineyard.