Harvest Report: 2018 in the Indiana Uplands

As Harvest Season came to an end, it brought tons (literally, thousands of pounds) of grapes into the wineries along the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail. On the early mornings of precisely chosen days in August through October, winemakers and vineyard teams along with family members and volunteers from the community were up with excited hands and tools picking the fresh, ripe fruit from the vines. Like every year, the harvest of 2018 brought in more than just great fruit. Along with the grapes come great stories of hard work, examples of improvisation despite excellent preparation, and triumphs and forfeits in this partnership with mother nature.  Here is a peek inside the 2018 Indiana Uplands Harvest Season.

An unseasonably cold April kept the vines at the cusp of budding a bit longer than usual, which was favorable. When vines bud early, it puts them at risk to freeze should our unpredictable Indiana weather bring a late frost. This Spring was linear, fortunately, in terms of temperature; Winter held on a little long but the warm weather was here to stay once it appeared! A very warm May and June followed and the vines were frenzied. So much greenery and so many gorgeous clusters! Our teams managed the canopy growth to allow each grape cluster to receive the amount of sunlight, wind, and shade ideal for it's varietal. Late Spring and early Summer were busy in the vineyards! 

July and August brought beautiful ripening days with long hours of sunshine, foggy mornings, and flavor development. These are the months we could begin tasting unique character in each varietal. The Catawba becomes peachy and bright, the Chambourcin deep and rich. Veraison makes the vineyard even more beautiful as the grapes grow colorful and plump!

This period of ripening also means the grapes are an inviting treat for some unwelcome guests. For Jim Butler, owner and winemaker at Butler Winery, "bees were at a minimum and none of the pickers were bitten by any wild creatures." Small victories along the way make for a more enjoyable harvest season!

Birds, in particular, attempt to cause trouble for our vineyards. Indiana Uplands Wine Trail winemakers sometimes go to extreme measures to keep the birds away- next time you're visiting Turtle Run Winery ask Jim Pfeiffer how he managed to use classic rock, fireworks, and a "bird blaster" to avoid giving up his grapes to the eager birds. At Winzerwald Winery, one crop of grapes in their River Vineyard was netted for bird control to protect these grapes used to make Winzerwald's Heirloom Wine. Donna and Dan Adams (owners and winemakers at Winzerwald Winery) reported, unfortunately, that some raccoon and opossum visitors seemed to make their way through the netting to picnic on the vines. Little did they know we were all planning for a really delicious wine from those grapes! There is hope for next year.

Despite that small hiccup, Winzerwald Winery enjoyed their very first harvest of Chambourcin, Traminette, and Vidal Blanc from their Ridge Vineyards! Donna Adams said, "while in very small quantities, these grapes matured well and should produce excellent first vintages."

Along with Winzerwald Winery, the IUWT wineries in the further south portion of the AVA (Huber's Winery and Turtle Run Winery) tend to harvest a bit earlier than the wineries in the northern part of the Indiana Uplands (like Oliver Winery, Butler Winery, and Owen Valley Winery). The slightly warmer temperatures in the southern half of the region do allow the grapes to bud and ripen a bit earlier than those in the slightly cooler central portion of the region.

September was rainy, as you may remember. Increased rain can be worrisome for some of our delicate white grapes like Traminette and Vignoles in the vineyards of the more northern wineries. While winemakers may have hoped for more sunshine days, the forecast for heavy precipitation meant careful attention and action in order to avoid rot. Increased wetness can also over-water our vineyards, diluting the sugar and acidity levels we aim for at harvest, and eroding the nutrient-rich soils from our hilly landscape. Using their years of experience and weather forecasting tools, IUWT winemakers had to devise a plan to leave the delicate fruit on the vines long enough to develop ripeness and flavor, but to harvest them before rains could cause trouble. Dennis Dunham, winemaker at Oliver Winery said, "some of the varietals that could be more sensitive to the rain cooperated and ripened just before the rains came." Fortunately, the warmth of the summer had given us enough ripeness to avoid panic from the rain.

Nearly 90 degree days in late September and October kept us on our toes as we wrapped up the 2018 harvest. "This is what I LOVE about growing grapes here," says Jim Pfeiffer, owner and winemaker at Turtle Run Winery. "Each year delivers a new and exciting challenge."

Brown County Winery just planted their first vines in 2018 and were happy to report that "none of our vines died and they all look really healthy!" The Schrodt family looks forward to harvesting a little fruit next fall, and continuing to nurture these vines for future harvest seasons!

Jim Butler wraps it up perfectly. "All-in-all a good year and we are looking forward to some great wines."

Travel the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail to learn more about our wines and our vineyards!