Terroir or Terror in Wisconsin Grape Growing
Posted on by Jay Stoeger
It’s time to talk about how great Wisconsin is for growing grapes and how terroir is a part of that. Just don’t ask those in the Southwest quadrant of the state. Southwestern Wisconsin had a late frost this past spring and lost as much as 75% of their crop. Our vineyard suffered that same fate in 2015. Now we could feel sorry for ourselves, or we could just come to grips with the fact that late frost is a danger to most grape growing regions including France, Italy and California. While visiting Paso Robles just a few months ago, my wife and I were told about the terrible frost that hit them just a couple of years ago, where the shoots were 18 inches long and a sharp drop in temperature one night turned everything brown. How devastating! Walking through our own vineyard in 2015 felt like I had a stake driven through my chest. Anyway, enough depressing talk.
The real point is that you can grow grapes in Wisconsin and this year is looking very promising so far. If you drive down any country road right now you’ll see beautiful corn and wheat fields unlike anything we’ve seen for many years. The same thing is going on with our vineyards. We’ve had a mild winter and spring and now the summer is hot but not too hot and there is rain but not too much rain. More importantly, the sun has not been hiding behind the clouds for weeks on end like it did back in 2014. So with just a little more blessing, we could have an abundant and high quality crop.
With all that being said, there is that word that grape-growers always use; terroir. Terroir is everything that affects the grape except the weather. The soil, the slope of the vineyard, and the latitude and longitude where the vineyard exists all affect the flavor of the grape. Some find this hard to believe but having grown grapes for seven seasons now it has become very apparent that these things do have an impact. The slope of the vineyard is a prime example. A vineyard that slopes to the south as little as 2 or 3 percent will have a significantly earlier ripening than an area sloping to the north. Most grape growers think it goes much further than that in that it produces flavors on that south slope that are not attainable on the north sloping. I myself would not readily believe this except for the fact that all the great grape growing regions of the world hold this concept as fact.
In Wisconsin, specifically the Niagara Escarpment, we have many gently rolling hills to make this a very common situation. We also have the same longitude as Bordeaux France and our soil is very well suited to growing fruit. So, several years ago the Federal Government declared Northeast Wisconsin an American Viticulture Area called “The Wisconsin Ledge”.
So what is our Terroir all about? Good soil and good sunlight.
Until next time,
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Kewaunee, WI 54216