Winter is passing by once again, and we're looking forward to the bright colors and sunlight to come with spring! Here among the vineyards in the Indiana Uplands, each season has its unique qualities and demands. Of course, we can't perfectly predict the variety of highs and lows to come in each year's weather patterns, but our winemakers and vineyard managers have plans for vine management in each season. The steps we take throughout the winter, spring, and summer optimize growth and lead to the high-quality fruit we are proud to harvest in fall.
So, how has this winter shaped up in Indiana's Wine Country and what have we been up to the last few months? We sat down and uncorked a bottle of Turtle Run's Catawba with owner and winemaker Jim Pfeiffer to bring you an Indiana Uplands Vineyard Update:
- This winter has been relatively steady, considering our capricious climate. Tracking temperatures year-to-year is critical to our successes, according to Jim. He recalls the iconic 2012 "Polar Vortex" of drastically colder temperatures and explains how overall lows during winters have been lower since then. "While the overall winter average daily temperature hasn't gone down per se, our lows have gone from bottoming out around 14 degrees to now around zero or just above. That's a big difference." Despite this new normal, 2018 hasn't brought any extended dips in temperature or extremely harsh days that would throw off or concern our vineyard managers.
- We're still looking out for cold temperatures through April. March has been cooler than normal, which is keeping eager vines at bay. That's a good thing, Jim says, as we don't want budding new shoots to arrive too early and risk their demise with the potential of a late frost. "The longer we can extend the cold and delay bud break, the better." In keeping a close eye at weather patterns each year, Jim has noted that the weeks of April 3-8 and October 1-4 tend to bring strong cold fronts. So, we'll be happy if bud break holds on until closer to that week in April, and then the green can begin to flourish on the vines from there.
- The grape varieties we're known for do very well in our winters. Part of successfully growing grapes in the Indiana Uplands AVA is knowing which varietals can withstand our unique climate. We're not in Central California; we are in beautiful, Southern Indiana! Our land enjoys four distinct seasons, and winter is just as important as the rest. The cold gives our vines time to rest, recharge, and get ready to produce delicious fruit. The hybrid varieties many of our wineries grow (like Traminette, Chambourcin, and Catawba) are happy here in the Indiana Uplands, and can withstand zero degree winters with little to no trouble. One of Jim's most winter-hardy varietals at Turtle Run is Frontenac: "We planted Frontenac several years ago, and every single bud is alive all the way to the end of the canes. It's crazy. Crazy awesome, that is."
- Our vineyard crews have been very busy pruning. "How we prune our vines is absolutely paramount to our successes for the upcoming season," Jim says. While harvest season in the fall is the height of busyness among the vines, our crews are diligent in the winter and spring, carefully pruning the vines to perfection. Selective cutting of shoots helps us manage the amount of clusters growing on each vine as well as the amount of leaf canopy over the clusters. It is vital that we optimize the number of grape clusters on each vine as to take full advantage of the vine's nutrition for each cluster- a quality over quantity approach. Canopy management allows us to control the amount of sunlight and the impact of cool breezes on the grapes. Sunlight helps the fruit ripen and develop rich flavors while the breezes control temperatures and help fight disease. Prune, prune, prune.
We're looking forward to a bountiful growth in our vineyards this year, and we're excited to share with you the wonderful Indiana Wines to come! Come see us along the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail so we can pour you a glass.