Minnesota wineries anticipate ‘solid crop’ in 2023 thanks to deep snowpack

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Minnesota vineyards tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are off to a good start this spring, thanks to the above-average snowfall this winter.

“The thing that makes us most nervous growing grapes in Minnesota is our cold winters. We got cold this year, but fortunately, we had a big thick blanket of snow,” said Kyle Peterson, co-owner of Winehaven Winery. “It may be counterintuitive, but more snow actually kind of holds the warmth that the earth already has. Just like the insulation in your house, the snow is an insulator, too. So in January, when it was super cold, we had some protection for those roots, which is the most critical part of the vine.”

Winehaven Winery has 25 acres of vineyards in the Chisago Lakes area.

“We’ve seen some years where it got close to minus 40 [degrees] here, and the vines got killed back to the root,” Peterson explained. “Without the snow, I would have been much more nervous this year.”

Crews started pruning the vines last week. Peterson said they appear healthy and strong so far.

“This year, we’re seeing a lot of survival, which means that right now, we’re in a really good place for having a solid crop this coming year,” said Matt Clark, a horticultural science professor at the University of Minnesota, who leads the grape breeding project there.

The Twin Cities saw about 3 feet more of snow this year compared to an average winter, making it the eighth-snowiest winter on record.

Clark said the heavy snowpack might also help offset the recent drought.

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“Hopefully it’s recharging our soils so our plants can get off to a great start this summer,” Clark said. “Grape production and wine production is so dynamic. The weather really impacts how the grapes perform. Right now, we’re optimistic with what we have. We’re set up really nicely.”

Winemakers note the solid start to spring comes in the midst of a ‘lucky streak’ for Minnesota vineyards.

“We’ve had a string of really good years,” Peterson added.

Back in 2021, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reported on the banner year for wineries in what they called a “California summer” due to hot, dry conditions.

“That hot summer we had really did a lot for the flavor development of the grapes,” Peterson said. “It was our best year ever. We’ve never won so many awards.”

Peterson said their 2021 Deer Garden Red Chisago wine took home a gold medal in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, facing off against wineries from all over the world.

He said the 2022 growing season came with more dry weather and another solid crop. Those wines will be released next month.

While winemakers are encouraged by what they are seeing in the vineyards so far, it is too early to tell what will happen with the 2023 crop.

“One crazy tornado or hard thunderstorm the week before harvest can change the whole course of the season. One thing you can expect with Minnesota is the unexpected,” Peterson said. “I’d always ask that question to my dad: ‘How do you think this year looks?’ And he would say, ‘You’ll never know until it’s in the tank.'”