Friday, March 30, 2007

MARCH'S FIRST: The Art of Pruning Vines

If you are following along, you will know that I am in year three of a mission to try something new every month. Below is my entry for March 2007.

On Monday, March 26, I spent a glorious afternoon learning the art of pruning grape vines at the famous Bowers Harbor Vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula. It is one of five vineyards on the peninsula that make up the "Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula." Owner Spencer Stegenga was my ever so patient master guide for the day.

After a quick tour of his own personal "mini" golf course, Spencer took me out to their newest vineyard -- Erica Vineyard -- where he gave me some how to tips, made some cuts himself and then trusted me with this row of his precious Cabernet Sauvignon vines. We analyzed the vines, discussed why certain cuts were necessary and made our way along. Of course, I never made a cut without first consulting Spencer…but most of the time, he agreed with my decision. Every now and then, I'd look up and gaze out to the west, awed by the views of Grand Traverse Bay with its amazing deep blue and turquoise color. Spencer told me just a week prior, much of the bay had been covered with ice. It was hard to imagine such a thing on this 65 degree sunshine day.

By the halfway point, I understood more about the whole process of pruning vines. I looked for straight trunks, cut away the larger "elephant" vines, cleaned up the tangled web of vines, left smaller "security" vines intact, and when things were done, each looked like a piece of artwork. To my surprise, I never once cut myself or the wires with the electric pruners that Spencer entrusted me with (nor did I cut him, which I'm sure he's real happy about). He said his crew would come along soon and clean up the wires, tie down the vines and then we'd wait for Mother Nature to play her role.

Throughout the summer, I will return to Bower's Harbor to check on my little row of vines...waiting for that first sign of fruit. I will be looking to see how my cuts helped shape the future of the vines and ultimately the grapes. I may even take a picnic in the vineyard – something Spencer says they will be offering through a partnership with a local restaurant. You can bet I'll be back at Bower's Harbor in the fall…just before the harvest. Of course, when it comes time for harvesting, the grapes from "my vines" will blend with all the others but I will have special interest in the 2007 vintage knowing that I played a minute role in its production.

Following our pruning session, Spencer and I returned to the tasting room to try the lighter 2004 Cab Sav as well as a more full bodied 2005 that hasn't even been released yet! He also set up a horizontal flight of his 2005 Rieslings, starting first with grapes harvested from the Block II vineyard, followed by the Montana Susa and finally the Langley (the latter was my personal favorite). Each had a distinguishing aroma and flavor because of the age of the grapes, the location of the vineyard on the property and the process used in bottling.

After the tasting, it was off to the nearby Mad Dog Deli for a quick lunch before I headed back to Traverse City. For more about Bowers Harbor, please visit Then, make plans to visit the actual tasting room and winery. You won't be disappointed. Tell Spencer I sent you...and be sure to scratch Cooper (the official greeter…a Bernese Mountain Dog) behind his ears, he seems to like that!


PS -- To read about my "first experiences" for 2007, (winter kayaking in January, luging in February) please visit

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