George Gershwin composed the song Summertime in the 1930's for the opera Porgy and Bess, and one of my favorite versions was recorded in 1968...the year I was born...by the late great Ella Fitzgerald. I do love summertime, and when the sun burns bright and the heat kicks on, so does the vineyard at River Bend.
Warm temperatures in late May and early June bring rapid development to northern vineyards. While vineyards in places like southern California can break dormancy as early as March, vineyards in Wisconsin do not break until May. With fall frost as early as October 1st, the growing season is short and fruit maturation must happen quickly.
When the University of Minnesota started developing wine grapes for northern climates, the heat of the growing season was of utmost concern. In Wisconsin, we have an average of 2500 degree days in a calendar year. Degree days are the number of degrees Fahrenheit over 50, based on average daily temperature, summed up for the period. But don't get hung up on the definition. Here's the gist...grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon need 3000 degree days from April to October to ripen. We don't get that in a full year! Cab would never ripen here, much less survive January. So the U of M crossed native grapes (that ripen quickly) with European grapes (that make great wine) and ta-dah! Now there are vineyards in Wisconsin.
Grapes, like all fruit, begin as flowers, and they are tiny. But not for long. Shoots can grow several inches a day, and the flowers elongate quickly. Bloom is short and before you know it, the flowers are little buck-shot berries. By late July we'll see clusters at full size, and they will begin to change color. By late August, sugar levels will be rising, organic acid levels will be falling, and we'll be looking at harvest dates in September. And just like that, it's over! (Insert sad face emoji.) But it's always a great ride, so remember, from the lyrics of Summertime, "Your daddy's rich and your mamma's good lookin', so hush little baby, don't you cry."
Join us again next week as we head back inside the distillery. Batch #3 of our Craftsman Bourbon will be released the first weekend of June, and we've also been hard at work on a brand new whiskey that is uniquely Wisconsin. You won't want to miss it!