Dave Mohn, owner of Flower Valley Vineyard currently serves as Vice President of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association (MGGA), and has been active on their board of directors since 2012.
This coming February 18 join Dave and MGGA to celebrate local wine with “Winter Wine Fest” – sip and sample from over 40 wineries beneath the glittering lights of the Grand Ballroom at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington, MN. Minnesota Uncorked friends save $5 per ticket by checking out with promo code UNCORKED5 at mngrapes.com.
Winter at the Winery
The open/closed sign by the winery door has been flipped to closed the final time for the season. The chairs and tables have been stacked away and a very noticeable quiet solitude takes over the Flower Valley Vineyard tasting room. The leaves are long gone from the grape vines as well as the trees on the river bluffs that surround us.
Like a lot of Minnesota wineries, we spend the winter closed for tastings. We shift our focus to making the wine from the fall harvest and get ready to prune the vineyard.
After the holidays, we trudge out to the vineyard…
It’s almost time to get out our heavy insulated winter clothes and sharpen the pruning tools. After the holidays, we trudge out to the vineyard and get started. Each of the 4500 vines is pruned individually. This job takes us about 500 hours to complete. About 90% of each vine is removed leaving the trunk and a few canes with fruiting buds for next year’s crop. It can be a solitary time. This usually continues until April. Pruning a large vineyard through the chill of winter can quickly remove the idea of thinking of owning a vineyard as a romantic lifestyle!
There is also a lot of work going on the winery. Most of the wines have completed going through their primary fermentation where yeast was added to change the natural sugar in the grapes to alcohol. The dead yeast settles to the bottom of the tanks along with pulp and other material from the original grapes. During the next few weeks a lot of the wines are racked (pumped) from the original tanks to new tanks or barrels and all the sediment and tartaric acid that collected on the sides of the tanks is removed.
Another process that happens about this time of year is cold stabilization. The wines are cooled down to around 25 degrees which helps a lot of the unneeded acids fall out. A lot of wineries have tanks with cooling systems to do this. Since we are a small winery, we open the windows and hope the weather will cooperate and complete this task!
Reflecting on the previous year
Every year is different in the vineyard, with the weather being the biggest factor. This year was a real challenge with the May 15th late frost which wiped out many fruiting buds. Also, the frequent rains and heat this summer generated a lot of problems with mold and rot. I was hoping to do a late harvest of Frontenac grapes for a desert wine and got a few helpful friends to put bird netting around a row of Frontenac vines. The result was rotted grapes from the continued warm weather during the fall. As you can see, growing a commercial vineyard in Minnesota is no different than other types of farming where you take what nature dishes out. All we can do is be optimistic for next year.
We also like to spend this time reflecting on the past year, and talking about what we should do to improve the various aspects of our operation for next year to keep your continued interest. The competing forces are getting stronger every year — with an estimated 75 wineries licensed in Minnesota and additional ones just across the river in Wisconsin, it seems like every town has at least one event or festival every summer to also compete for the weekend traffic we depend on.
Not all of the wineries will survive as a number of them have already disappeared. We just need to adhere to a business model based on quality and continue to improve every year.
I would like to wish all of you the very best for next year and thank you for your continued support for our vineyard and the other Minnesota wineries!
Kindly, Dave Mohn
Owner, Flower Valley Vineyard
Vice President, Minnesota Grape Growers Association