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First Mechanical Harvest at Fox Hollow

I received a really interesting note from Bryan at Fox Hollow Vineyards in southwest Michigan. At the end of April, there was a bad frost in Michigan which decimated the grapes. Many vines were frosted down to the tertiary bud. They made the decision to leave four canes versus two on their vertical shoot position trellis in order to get something out of the Pinot Noir this year. Needless to say, this was not a good decision. With the excessive leaf to grape ratio, the plants preferentially went into a vegetative state, shutting down production of many grape clusters. The end result was plenty of leaves and tiny grapes.

Obtaining migrant labor during harvest is a challenge in Michigan. This year at Fox Hollow they were faced with the dilemma of spending considerable money on labor to pick a couple tons of Pinot Noir (667, 777, 115 on Riparia and 101-14) over three or four days versus dropping the crop and forgetting about it. Brix levels were 21° and the grapes were beginning to break down. September had been extremely wet (more rain in southwest Michigan than in any of the previous sixteen years that Bryan has lived there).

Lo and behold, they found out that one of the local Concord growers had leased a modern French harvester which uses high speed vibration with soft paddles. Bryan chose to try the harvester on his crop and was able to go through 2 ½ acres in 1 hour 20 minutes (at $150 per hour excluding travel time for the harvester and support tractors). Bryan was nice enough to share some photos of the harvest which I think will be of great interest to readers.

Here is a photo of Bryan’s Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer vineyards to the southwest. The hills in the distance are the dunes of Lake Michigan.

The mechanical harvester with the support tractor. The harvester straddles each row of vines and the tractor travels in tandem between the rows.

Bryan (with glasses) standing on top of the harvester with two others, one of which is a cute brunette from Hungary who came to Michigan as an enological exchange student (Helga). She states that Hungarian Pinot Noir is “not so good.”

View from the top of the harvester.

The grapes from Fox Hollow Vineyard go to Round Barn Winery, owned by Rich Moersch (PinotFile, Volume 5, Issue 26). Hopefully I will get a follow up report on how the 2006 Pinot Noir turned out.

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