Monday, February 18, 2013

R Little Vineyard Harvest 2012 in Pictures

Philippe Coquard, owner and winemaker at Wollersheim Winery,
and Bob Rochester look at Edelweiss grapes

Dropping off Edelweiss at Wollersheim Winery

Buckets for picking grapes

Edelweiss grapes we delivered to Wollersheim Winery

Sunday, February 17, 2013

R Little Vineyard's Marquette Grapes

R Little Vineyard's Marquette grapes are used in Fisher King Winery's delicious 2011 Marquette wine. It is about to run out! Described as "Tangy and Mouth-watering" in the Napa Valley Register, we are now down to the final few cases. If you're a fan of this juicy dry, red wine, you might want to stop by very soon to snag a last bottle for yourself! Once it's gone, well, it'll be gone for a while. 

We're working on a replacement, made from the 2012 Fall harvested Marquette. This new wine is now nestled in oak, but won't be released until later this year. Enjoy our 2011 Limited Release while you can!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vineyard venture a learning experience - The Country Today: Country Options

Vineyard venture a learning experience - The Country Today: Country Options

STODDARD — Even after the grapes have been harvested, the vineyard is a sanctuary for Pam Rochester.

She loves to walk among the vines, clipping and pruning. The hills are kaleidoscopic in autumn foliage.

“The vineyard is my baby,” she said.

Pam and Bob Rochester own R Little Vineyard, a small, commercial grape-growing operation in Vernon County, part of the Upper Mississippi River Valley appellation designated by the U.S. government in 2009.

Viticulture has a significant presence in the unique terroir of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, which encompasses almost 30,000 square miles in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. It’s the largest wine-making region in the country, far vaster than California’s Napa Valley.

When tobacco ceased to be a viable cash crop in Vernon County, UW-Extension agent Tim Rehbein guided growers to a new option: cold climate grapes.

Pam thought owning a vineyard “sounded fun and romantic,” a way of connecting the present with her Italian ancestry.

“Well, it’s a lot of work,” she said, wiser after six years in the business. “I knew that a vine had trunks and arms. I did not realize how much I did not know.”

Grapes aren’t an easy crop to learn. Growers need specialized knowledge of pest and disease control, trellising, pruning, harvesting, training, hedging and much more.

Education was key. The Rochesters spent years touring vineyardss, attending classes, researching and going to seminars, conferences and workshops. They talked with vineyard owners and took a bus trip on Michigan’s wine trail.

After clearing hillsides at their scenic property nestled in rolling hills, they planted their first varietals, Frontenac and La Crescent, in May 2006.

Startup costs were about $2,000 to $3,000 per acre, with about 550 vines per acre. The Rochesters worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to secure posts at reduced cost by cutting black locust mantle wood from Goose Island; they bought 450 vines at $2.25 apiece. Other necessities included grow tubes, stakes, tensioners and chemicals.

Six years in, the vineyard is still being modifed. They are tearing out 300 5-year-old vines that have not been productive and planting new grapes on a hillside with southern exposure.

The Rochesters have seven cold-climate varieties of grape, hybrids designed by the University of Minnesota to withstand the climactic challenges of the region. They have been members of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association since 2006, and they joined the Wisconsin Grape Growers Association when it was formed in 2009. Their daughter Becky Rochester is the group’s marketing coordinator.

They currently have La Crosse, Frontenac, La Crescent, Marquette, Edelweiss, St. Croix and St. Pepin grapes. They plan to downsize, remove the La Crosse and St. Pepin and maintain the other five.

The dry, hot year was a blessing; the Rochesters did not have to irrigate because vines grow deep roots and draw water far below the surface. Little rain meant no molds, mildews, rots or any of the other diseases that commonly plague grapes.

“This year’s Frontenac grape crop was beautiful,” said Pam.

Despite the cooperative weather, maintaining the vines was still labor intensive. Beetles attack buds; bugs attack leaves; and birds, deer, racoons and turkeys are eager to sample the sweet clusters.

“You have to stay on task,” she added. “You’re always going to lose a little bit. You can’t keep them all out.”

Vineyard maintenance is a family project.

“This is one of my vineyard workers,” Pam joked, pointing to her mother, who lives in a house on the property. Bob’s father has an apartment downstairs; he does all of the mowing, and children and grandchildren are frequent guests.

“We’re always walking through, always scouting the vineyard.”

To maximize each vine’s potential, growers must take off leaves to get direct sunlight, control airflow, train the arms, net the grapes and keep growth away from the ground. After harvest, Pam is still removing “mummies,” the shriveling grapes not harvested, pruning and planning for next year.

When their vines were first planted, Pam’s reaction to her grapes was awe, what she describes as an almost spiritual experience.

“I’ve never been a farmer before,” she said.

Now, she understands the downside of cultivating the earth — so many factors are beyond a human’s control. One lightning storm could rip across a wire and fry a row; weather is unpredictable, so they’ve learned to pick quickly if there is danger of losing the crop.

For the harvest, they invite all their friends and family, set up a tent and make an event of it. They all enjoy the “romantic” aspect of picking grapes, she said, smiling.

Now that they’ve got the basics in hand, the Rochesters want to focus on quality.

“This is the first year we’ve had such good quality in the Frontenac,” said Pam. Overall, it’s their most successful variety.

“It’s a hard grape to work with because of the acid — you have to get the acid down,” she explained. They use a refractometer to measure acid and “get the grapes to the right sweetnesss.”

They sell the Edelweiss to Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, which will be bottling a rosé port this year. The Frontenac is bought by River Bend Winery in Chippewa Falls for their Magenta, and they have also sold to Fisher King Winery in Mount Horeb, although they did not this year.

Pam is proud of the Magenta, an award-winning wine and River Bend’s best-seller.

“That goes to show that Wisconsin can produce quality wines,” she said.

Winemakers prefer to buy grapes by the ton, so the Rochesters make their own wine with stray grapes. At one time they intended to open a tasting room, but they don’t want the confinement of owning a retail shop. Plus, the demand for grapes is high, so the market is strong.

Bob retired once, but took “an offer he couldn’t refuse” and is back in the saddle. A two-time breast cancer survivor, Pam plans to retire in January and dedicate herself to the vines.

“You get so caught up in the rat race out there,” she said. “The vineyard brings peace. I can’t wait until I can be out there all the time.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in R Little Vineyard June 2011: Rose Chafer

Rose chafer: The rose chafer is a light tan beetle with a darker brown head and long legs. It is about 12 mm long. There is one generation per year. Adults emerge from the ground during late May or June, near grape bloom time, and live for 3 to 4 weeks. Females lay groups of eggs just below the surface in grassy areas of sandy, well-drained soils. The larvae (grubs) spend the winter underground, move up in the soil to feed on grass roots and then pupate in the spring. A few weeks later, they emerge from the soil and disperse by flight. Male beetles are attracted to females and congregate on plants to mate and feed. Feeding damage is most obvious on the leaves, though the greatest impact can be on young clusters when adult beetles remove the developing berries.

Rose Chafer in R Little Vineyard

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in R Little Vineyard June 2011: Grape Phylloxera

Grape phylloxera has been scouted here and there in R Little Vineyard. Phylloxera are small, yellow, aphidlike insects that live on vine roots and leaves. The root form stunts growth of susceptible vines and can kill them. This pest is effectively managed using resistant or tolerant rootstocks. In the eatern United States, foliar damage is seen on wild grape, labrusca and some vinifera vineyards as raised galls ont he undersides of leaves (see photo below). The root form of this pest prefers vines growing in heavy clay soils. Phylloxera damage the roots of vines by feeding on growing rootlets, which then swell and turn yellowish. The swellings are often hard to see on mature roots. Necrotic spots (dead areas) develop at the feeding sites. Labrusca grapes can tolerate phylloxera feeding on roots, particularly in well-watered vineyards. (Page 29 in Michigan State University Extensions' A Pocket Guide for Grape IPM Scouting in the North Central and Eastern United States).

High populations of foliar phylloxera can result in prematrue defoliation, reduced shoot growth, and reduced yield and quality of crop. Foliar phylloxera can reduce the photosynthetic activity of grape leaves. In addition, the leaf galls cause distortion, necrosis, and premature defoliation. Premature defoliation may delay ripening, reduce crop quality, and predispose vines to winter injury. Populations must reach very high densities before yield is affected, and this is rare. The impact of infestations over years on the overall health and vigor of the vine is unknown.

Grape Phylloxera in R Little Vineyard

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in R Little Vineyard June 2011: Gallmakers on Leaves

Scouting for pests and other diseases is critical for effective vineyard management. IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls. In practicing IPM, growers who are aware of the potential for pest infestation follow a four-tiered approach. The four steps include:

Set Action Thresholds
Before taking any pest control action, IPM first sets an action threshold, a point at which pest populations or environmental conditions indicate that pest control action must be taken. Sighting a single pest does not always mean control is needed. The level at which pests will either become an economic threat is critical to guide future pest control decisions.

Monitor and Identify Pests
Not all insects, weeds, and other living organisms require control. Many organisms are innocuous, and some are even beneficial. IPM programs work to monitor for pests and identify them accurately, so that appropriate control decisions can be made in conjunction with action thresholds. This monitoring and identification removes the possibility that pesticides will be used when they are not really needed or that the wrong kind of pesticide will be used.

As a first line of pest control, IPM programs work to manage the crop, lawn, or indoor space to prevent pests from becoming a threat. In an agricultural crop, this may mean using cultural methods, such as rotating between different crops, selecting pest-resistant varieties, and planting pest-free rootstock. These control methods can be very effective and cost-efficient and present little to no risk to people or the environment.

Once monitoring, identification, and action thresholds indicate that pest control is required, and preventive methods are no longer effective or available, IPM programs then evaluate the proper control method both for effectiveness and risk. Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first, including highly targeted chemicals, such as pheromones to disrupt pest mating, or mechanical control, such as trapping or weeding. If further monitoring, identifications and action thresholds indicate that less risky controls are not working, then additional pest control methods would be employed, such as targeted spraying of pesticides. Broadcast spraying of non-specific pesticides is a last resort.

A great resource to purchase is "A Pocket Guide for Grape IPM Scouting in the North Central and Eastern United States" published by Michigan State University Extension. Cost is $15 and you can purchase it online at a few different websites.

Here's what we scouted most recently:

Gallmakers on leaves: Many galls of various shapes occur on grapevines as a result of attack by small flies (gall midges). Galls can occur on leaves, tendrils and blossom buds. Numerous species of gall midges attack grapes. No practical control for these galls is known, though removing the galls by hand and destroying them would reduce future populations.

Galls are formed by larvae of small cecidomyiid flies, which lay their eggs into the leaf. Infestations are generally spotty, both within the vineyards and within the infested vines, and they rarely cause significant economic damage. There may be one to three generations per year. The life cycle begins with eggs laid within the unfolding buds or shoot tips. Orange, maggot like larvae hatch from these eggs and enter the vine tissue. As the larvae feed, galls form around them. (Page 19-20 of Michigan State University Extension's A Pocket Guide for Grape IPM Scouting in the North Central and Eastern United States)

These are leaves from a La Crescent plant in R Little Vineyard. Notice the galls on the backside.

The frontside of the leaves show a bright orange-red color. There were 5 leaves on the vine that had galls on them.
We picked them off and burned them.
The leaves were placed in a Ziploc bag and a few days later, the orange larvae hatched.
Notice them in the lower left-hand corner. They jump around.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Trunk tightening and ties in R Little Vineyard

Bob Rochester, Mark Burg & Sherri Burg helped put bamboo poles in R Little Vineyard to help strengthen the trunks and support the grape clusters later this fall.