By DANIEL GRANT
Grape production this season is expected to flourish at Mackinaw Valley Vineyard despite it being mired in a severe drought. Diane Hahn, owner/operator of the specialty farm and agritourism center located on a scenic glacier moraine in central Illinois, discussed the reasons for her optimism during a recent FarmWeek interview.
“Grapes are an interesting fruit. They’re a fairly drought-resistant plant,” she said. “Of course they need water, but they do much better in drier conditions than row crops.” Hahn’s late husband, Paul, purchased the farm and planted grapes in the former row crop fields nearly a quarter century ago. Diane operates the 15-acre vineyard and tasting room with her son, Eric, and daughter, Carly Drezek.
The family grows 20 varieties of French-American hybrid grapes developed at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University. “They’re good for our climate,” Hahn said of the grape varieties. “They can survive in up to 30-below temperatures.”
The 25-year-old grape vines, which aren’t irrigated, have also established deep roots that allow the plants to tap into subsoil moisture during dry spells, such as the current drought. “They are pretty tolerant of low-water situations,” Hahn said. “Our biggest issue when rain is a problem is toward the end of August when the berries are starting to finish. If it’s wet in August, the berries can swell and split.”
One impact of the drought is the grapes could be smaller come harvest later this summer and fall. However, that could actually be a good thing as far as wine production goes. “We may not have as much fruit,” Hahn said. “The grapes could be smaller, so they’ll have more intense flavor.”
The other main weather impact on the grape crop near Mackinaw so far this season was a hard spring freeze, which damaged about 5% of the plants. Mackinaw Valley Vineyard produces and harvests all its own grapes and makes all its wine on site. Mackinaw Valley typically offers about 20 to 24 wine varieties each season, including reds, whites, blushes, and flavored wines. “We have very farm-centric, local stuff,” Hahn said. “We just appreciate people supporting us.”
The vineyard hosts several family-friendly events, including a popular concert series during the summer. “Paul had a vision when he bought the place and we keep expanding it,” Hahn said. The vineyard and tasting room were opened to the public 20 years ago, in 2003. “It’s kind of an exciting milestone,” Hahn added.
For more information about Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, visit the website, mackinawvalleyvineyard.com.
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.