2009 Release Time: Did The Cold Growing Season Ruin the 2009 Vintage?

April 29, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Wendy Aeschlimann

Most of us recall the summer of 2009 as the summer that never was. With cool temperatures and lots of rain, it seemed more like an extended spring than a balmy summer. Many predicted that the unusually cold and rainy conditions would be catastrophic for the grape crop. In the upper Midwest, grapes need as much typical summer weather as possible to properly ripen (one of the many reasons why some think making wine in the Midwest is a futile endeavor best left to the insane). According to Tom Zabadal, grape specialist with Michigan State University Extension, Michigan’s wine grape crop endured the lowest number of “growing degree days” (days where the temperature is above a minimum threshold) in 14 years. Doug Welsch, winemaker for Fenn Valley Vineyards, described 2009 as “one of the most difficult years to grow wine . . .” Luckily for growers in Southwest Michigan and below, a warm fall extended the season and allowed growers to delay harvest as long as possible to take advantage of this additional unexpected heat.

Bottling wine at Chateau Grand Traverse/Photo by Steve Sadler

Bottling wine at Chateau Grand Traverse/Photo by Steve Sadler

Now that many wineries have begun bottling their 2009 white wines, it is a good time to assess the effect of not-so-optimal weather on the 2009 vintage. Many wineries claim that the end-of-summer warm-up helped to edge these grapes to near-perfect ripening. A common word used to describe the 2009 vintage is “acidity” or “crispness, “ as many believe that cold conditions contributed to making a crisper, more acidic wine. Here is a round-up of wineries that have released their 2009 white wines and the reports on the effect of the growing season on these wines:

Fenn Valley Vineyards & Wine Cellar (Fennville, MI) reports that colder-than-normal conditions were a challenge in 2009. Winemaker Doug Welsch said that one bright spot to 2009 was the sunny and warm weather in late August and most of September, which allowed Pinots, Chardonnay and Riesling grape varieties to ripen in near perfect conditions. These warm ripening conditions developed the fruit character to its full potential, resulting in wines with robust varietal fruit character and slightly higher acidity. Despite the cool growing season, Fenn Valley, located in relatively warmer Southwest Michigan, is optimistic about their red wines. The extended warm weather throughout the fall allowed them to delay harvesting many red varietals until early November. As a result, Fenn Valley believes that their red wines have more color and complexity than those of the last two vintages. It has released its Edelzwicker, a white blend of 60% Traminette and 40% Riesling, “True” Chardonnay, which is entirely fermented in stainless steel and has seen no oak, and Pinot Grigio.

2 Lads (Traverse City, MI) released its ‘09 Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Rosé of Cabernet Franc. 2 Lads echoes Fenn Valley, noting that their 2009 season white wines offer crisp, fresh acidity with lovely fruit and floral notes.

Chateau Chantal (Traverse City, MI) has bottled its 2009 Select Harvest Gewurztraminer, and completed its Riesling trials (the process by which they blend Riesling from different vineyards to create the Riesling that they believe best characterizes their wine). The Detroit News has reviewed Chateau Chantal’s 2009 Pinot Grigio, and noted that it is “crisp and dry and packed with fruit,” and “breathed a sigh of relief that the infamous, cold 2009 vintage was not a total bust for Michigan.”

Left Foot Charley (Traverse City, MI) released its 2009 Pinot Grigio, Murmur (semi-dry blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Traminette) & Rosé wines.

The 2009 Pinot Grigio bottled by Bowers Harbor (Traverse City, MI) was recently named “Wine of the Week” by Detroit News. Despite the “trying” “cold and rainy” 2009 growing season, it was reviewed as tasting deliciously crisp, showing mandarin orange, grapefruit, lime and pineapple on the mid-palate. It was recommended that the wine be paired with seafood.

Black Star Farms (Suttons Bay, MI) just finished bottling its 2009 Sur Lie Chardonnay. Black Star describes 2009 as a “good growing” season, and say that this non-oaked chardonnay is medium-bodied with lots of ripe pear, apple and citrus.

Despite early angst that the 2009 growing season would produce less and lesser wine, it appears that it will be a great vintage for zippy whites. Some wineries, like Fenn Valley, have held pre-release tastings of the 2009 wines. Have you tried the 2009 vintage yet? Have you spotted any of these wines in Chicago? If so, please post here!



  1. Hello Wendy,

    Thanks for mentioning our 2009′s – so far, people have really been enjoying them!

    I wanted to mention that we recently gained distribution in Illinois through Fresh Coast Distributors, a newly formed company specializing in local Midwest wines. We’re confident that their efforts will place more high quality Michigan wines on the Chicago shelf.
    Please let me know if you make a trip to Old Mission, we’d love to give you a tour!

    • Waeschlimann says:


      Thanks for checking in and providing us with information re Fresh Coast. I see that Fresh Coast is building a nice portofolio of local wine and I look forward to hearing more about their distribution as they get their legs under them.


  2. We’re very excited to have Chateau Chantal as part of our launch portfolio. Their ’08 Chardonnay can be found at House Red in Forest Park. We’re also excited to be representing Fenn Valley Vineyards and Bowers Harbor Vineyards!

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