Crop Looking Weak in Michigan Wine Month

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Busloads of people poured into area wineries and vineyards Saturday, a welcome sight for vintners who say the harsh winter has been tough on them too.

"This has been a lousy winter for a whole lot of things, you know?" said Heather Price, executive director of Sandhill Crane Vineyards Winery and Cafe. "Not a lot of visitors and the grapes have been in peril for the winter."

So perhaps it's easy to understand why visitors used a sunny day to "come out of hibernation," as Price said, and sample new releases in the sunshine.

"It's been a long cold winter and it's been horrible," said Tiffany Osborne, a Toledo, Ohio resident taking a six-winery tour. "I'm ready for this warm weather and drinking wine and being out in the sun."

Local wineries are comparing this weekend to baseball's opening day. But when the excitement fades, they may be in for a tough grape season.

"The harvest this year for all grapes are going to be lower, considerably lower than what they were last year," said Dave Burgdorf, co-owner of Burgdorf Winery in Haslett, who is ultimately forecasting a 50 percent loss in business at best. "You won't know what you've got actually until the harvest comes in the fall."

In the meantime, vintners are pruning their vines and checking for green -- which is a sign of life. In Jackson, Price said snow served as insulation, protecting the roots of plants from a fatal frost. But she says everything above the snow was killed.

Winter may be over, but vines aren't quite out of the woods yet. Burgdorf says a frost or a hailstorm could do further damage. Summer weather conditions could play a part in grape quality too. All he can do now is prepare is plants and hope for the best.

"When you go to pick them is when you've got them," he said. "You can make all these estimates, but mother nature, she has the last say."

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