In late 2010 a vineyard site was picked for its slow flowing topography and highway access. It is in the northeast corner of Montgomery County, Indiana, at the coordinates 40.7.21 N by 86.44.32 W with the approximate altitude of 761 feet. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Chart places this location in the southern range of Zone 5b with a cold hardiness temperature range of -10°F to -15°F. The 2+ acre vineyard is laid out on a North/South line with four types of soils as shown below.
Sugar Creek Soil Types
Due to the dictates of the 5b Zone and some commercial inputs, the varietals chosen for planting are Traminette,Chambourcin and Marquette. Traminette is a cross of the French American hybrid Joannes Seyve 23.416 and the German Vitis vinifera cultivar Gewürztraminermade by Herb C. Barrett ca. 1965 at the University of Illinois. This grape will produce a large clustered table grape with the flavor of Gewürztraminer. Traminette has an excellent wine quality, combined with good productivity, partial resistance to several fungal diseases, and cold hardiness superior to its acclaimed parent, Gewürztraminer, while retaining a similar character. Traminette produces solid yields, ranging in studies from 12-22 lbs/vine average.
The second grape is Chambourcin (SHAM-bore –sin).This grape is a French-Americaninterspecific hybrid grape variety. Its parentage is uncertain but is believed to be a hybrid produced by Joannes Seyve who often used Seibel hybrids produced
in the 1860s. The grape has only been available since 1963. Chambourcin has a
good resistance to fungal disease and is one of the parents of the new disease resistant variety, Regent, which is increasing in popularity among German and Okanagan Valley grape growers.
The Chambourcin grape produces a deep-colored wine with a full aromatic flavor, and no unpleasant hybrid flavors. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level, giving it a pleasant but not overbearing sweetness. Chambourcin wines are often paired with dark chocolate as the flavors intermingle exceptionally well. It is a late ripening grape that produces a highly rated red wine when the fruit fully matures. The large moderately loose bunches set a medium-sized blue berries. The foliage is resistant to downy mildew but moderately susceptible to powdery mildew.
The third varietal to be chosen is Marquette, an inter-specific hybrid red
wine grape. It was developed at the University of Minnesota, and is a cross between two other hybrids, MN 1094 and Ravat 262. It is considered the cousin of Frontenac and the grandson of Pinot noir. Marquette has an outstanding cold hardiness and good resistance to both downy and powdery mildew. Marquette high sugar and moderate acidity at ripeness make it very manageable in the winery. Finished wines are complex, with an attractive ruby color, pronounced tannins and desirable aroma of cherry, berry, black pepper. It has performed well in trials and tends to ripen early enough for even northern Indiana.
Preparing the Fields for Planting
In early 2012 the plot was burned off to prepare for the layout of the rows and planting the vines. One day in mid-February, with 30 MPH winds, spitting snow and freezing temperatures, work began. Bernie Parker, our vineyard consultant, worked with Zach, David and Nathan Ehman, David’s other son-in-law, to lay out the rows. More than 450 flags were placed to mark each location for the vineyard posts which were spaced on 24 foot centers.(Vineyard Layout 1 &2) The rows were set at 9 feet apart. All the rows were in a North /South direction to maximize sunlight exposure on the vines.
Laying Out the Posts
The posts were purchased and picked up on March 21 then literally pounded on March 29th and 30th. The vines were delivered on March 29th and the entire volunteer labor force on-site March 31st to plant.
Manning the Skid Steers
At 9:00 AM on March 31st , the weather was a comfortable 55° as the planting crews arrived, ready to get started. After a brief tutorial from our vineyard consultant, we broke into groups: the diggers and two planting crews. The diggers were Zach’s brother Seth and cousin Adam Adams, manning the skid steers, equipped with 18 inch augers and capable of digging an 18 inch by 4 foo deep hole in about 20 seconds.
Planting Crews Get to Work
There were eight people on each planting crew, six planters and two on the chains. The chains were ~28 feet long, which wrapped around the posts in series. There was red tape on the chain at specific points, 4 foot, 12 foot and 20 foot, which would guide the planters so they could locate the center of the hole so the vines would be on a straight line and always 8 feet apart.
Post Layout Specs
We started on the west side of the vineyard with the Chambourcin vines. By 10:30 AM all 300 of this varital were in the ground. We were actually getting vines in the ground faster than the skid steers could dig holes.
Planting Crew Ahead of Schedule
So at around 11 AM , we stopped to let the digging crew catch up. Next, we started planting the Marquette vines. By 12 noon we had almost half of the vines in the ground. So we broke for lunch at the Cain Farm Shop. This gave everyone a short rest and a chance to meet each other and swap stories.
After a great lunch prepared by Marie, Zach’s wife, the planting resumed as the weather continued to cooperate with breaking clouds and warming temperatures. We were now ready to complete the second half of the vineyard, including 625 Traminette vines. By now the crews were “old hands” at planting and the afternoon passed quickly. By 3:30 PM, all 1,250 vines were planted, the sun shinning brightly and it was 65 degrees so we popped the champagne to celebrate!
Time To CELEBRATE!
Most everyone went home a little tired, and a few reported some soreness on Sunday morning but to a person, every one enjoyed the day.
Trellis Wire Installation
The next job was to install the trellis wires. Based on the varietals we planted a single curtain, bi –lateral Cordon system was chosen. The system is good for the vertical shoot positioning that works well for the hybrids we planted.
First, we had to drill holes close to the top of each mid-row post at 5’6” to accommodate the top cordon wire. There is actually some science here. The 5’6” height is so the fruit will hang below that to allow the grape pickers (assuming an average height of 5’6’’ to 6′) to pick the grapes (when we have grapes) at mid-chest rather than having to bend down or reach up over their heads. We used a 12.5 gauge hi-tensile wire placed on a spinning Jenny to install each row’s wire. It took over two miles of wire to finish the top cordon and the lower 14 gauge training wire at 30”. We started on the drilling in early April and installed the trellis wire immediately afterwards finishing up on April 17.
Once the training wires were in place, we could start setting up the grow tubes. We used the Blue-X grow tubes which can protect young vines and accelerate growth. The tubes provide protection from animals, chemical sprays, and weed trimmers. They come in two parts, an outer plastic sleeve which encircles a transparent blue-tinted polyester film. The film admits about 50% of the “photo active radiation” or PAR, which is the part of the light spectrum most used by plants.
When placing the tube over the young vines, you must first prune the vines back to remove any damage that may have happened in shipping or during planting. We wanted to leave two shoots on the Chambourcin and one on the Marquette and Traminette.
It took almost a month, working one to two days a week to prune the vines and put the grow tubes up. The grow tubes are held in place with a 7 foot bamboo shoot that is guided down through the grow tube in between the outer plastic sleeve and the inner polyester film. The bamboo shoot is then stuck into the ground approximately 1 foot deep and close to the base of the vine. The bamboo is then attached to the top cordon with a small plastic piece called a BranchLok.
With all the hardware in place, we thought we could take a break except for an occasional mowing and spraying RoundUp® to control the weeds and grasses. But it was not to be. The Japanese Beetles showed up way ahead of schedule, so spraying to control the beetles started in late May and continued through the summer.
Irrigation is Key
The Midwest suffered one of the worst droughts in recent history that started with little to no rain in early May. By late June, many of the vines were beginning to show stress from lack of rain combined with scorching days. While we had expected to irrigate the first year, it was planned to start irrigating in mid to late August not June or July. One of the reasons we picked this site for the vineyard was that it had a capped well on the property. The well had not been used for many, many years, so it first had to be put back into service. That was completed and we had access to water but no power. We first ran a gasoline powered generator sitting in the back of the Gator 4 wheeler but could only run it during the day to discourage any would be vandals from stealing the generator and the Gator. To get away from using the generator, we had the County drop an electric line from across the highway and we installed drip irrigation tubing the first week of July and on July 5 we had power and cool, clean water running down each vineyard row.
The rest of the summer was spent tending to the vines that were literally growing profusely. Many vines needed training up the bamboo and then along the top cordon.
After Labor Day we started removing the grow tubes so the vines would begin to “wood up” in preparation for the coming cooler weather.
We had our first frost in late October and almost overnight the vines dropped their leaves.
On December 1, Bernie came up to help us get started pruning the vines getting everything ready for winter. As of December 7, we are about 30% finished, having completed the Chambourcin and a portion of the Marquette. We plan to continue the pruning on nice weekend days from December to March.