Niagara juice grape harvest is underway in southwest Michigan.
Statewide, sugar levels have been increasing at or ahead of the recent average dates. In southern Michigan, acid levels have been slow to come down for many grape varieties. This has resulted in some early ripening varieties measuring very high sugar levels before the acid levels indicate they are ready for harvest, with Marquette as one example measuring 25-27 degrees Brix at harvest.
In southwest Michigan, wine grape harvest is continuing to expand. Burgundian wine grapes from the pinot series are now being picked. Niagara juice grape harvest began Monday, Sept. 20. Harvest of Niagara for National Grape Cooperative should be complete within a week. Concord harvest should begin early next week.
In the northern vineyards, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvest continues for sparkling production. Veraison is now complete for red varieties.
During fruit maturation, bird damage can be a challenge in vineyards. Crop losses can reach up to 95% and 60% in red and white varieties, respectively. Several methods of protection can be implemented including the use of bird nets, streamers, scare-eye balloons, electronic bird distress calls and propane-fired bird-scaring cannons. For more information on these methods, see: bird damage reduction strategies in viticultural practices.
This time of the season it is pivotal to properly monitor fruit chemical characteristics and maturity to make precise decisions on time of harvest and winemaking strategies to produce the best quality wine possible from this vintage. High quality wines are the natural convergence of fruit-derived flavor and aroma with ad hoc winemaking technologies. Therefore, in deciding the picking time for grapes, the priority needs are the quality and quantity of varietal aroma and flavor in the fruit. Sampling fruit in the vineyard regularly will describe aromas, flavors and textures for each different cultivar. that each cultivar goes through.
The next priority for red wines is the texture of the grape tannins in the skin and the seed because they determine the structure, body, astringency, bitterness and color intensity of the wine. Brix or sugar content is a simple way to determine a ripeness scale but the levels can greatly vary from year to year. In some years the grapes will be ripe with perfect varietal character at 21 brix and another year they may not have a varietal character at 23 brix.
However, enologists have a target for grape ripeness for each cultivar they would like the fruit to achieve for the style of wine they produce. The target is different within the same grape variety, depending on the type or style of wine produced. For example, one winery may prefer to produce a wine (e.g., Pinot Noir) with prominent red fruit characteristics (e.g., cherry or strawberry) while another winery would prefer riper black fruit (e.g., black cherries) notes in the wine. In fact, grape ripening is a physiological process with a continuous production of aroma and flavor. Therefore, timing of harvest is determining that point of ripening of the grapes that fits the winemaker’s objective for the wine.
Weed control is important at this time of the year for both harvested vineyards and blocks yet to be harvested. Weed control in non-harvested vineyards is mainly important to reduce weed interference in machine or manual harvest and to reduce the soil weed seed bank for the following season.
The application timing for most of the herbicides before harvest is mainly based on the pre-harvest interval (PHI). Aim (three-day PHI), Rely (14-day PHI), and Gramoxone (Restricted Use Pesticide) provide quick burn-down of weeds. Rely and Gramoxone control both broadleaves and grasses, but Aim is only effective for broadleaves. Venue (zero-day PHI) can be added to improve burn-down and broaden the weed control spectrum. Some herbicides will damage grape green bark, new shoots, leaves or vines, so minimize contact with vines during application.
Glyphosate also has a short 14-day PHI, but it is not advisable to apply it after bloom. Significant injury may occur during the current season or the following year if glyphosate comes in contact with leaves, green shoots or is absorbed by bark.
After grape harvest, weed control might not be the top priority for many vineyards. But fall is the best time to control perennial weeds and apply residual herbicides to vineyard floors. After harvesting, the most important step is to perform thorough scouting of your vineyard and prepare a list of weeds that are problematic in your vineyard. The next step is to select the herbicides in combination with non-chemical management tools that are effective against these weed species.
Fall applications of preemergence herbicides should be made before the soil freezes. Preemergence herbicides such as Alion (indazaflam), Princep (simazine), Solicam (norflurazon), Casoron (dichlobenil), Kerb (pronamide), GoalTender (oxyfluorfen), Prowl H2O (pendimethalin), Chateau (flumioxazin) and Matrix (rimsulfuron) may be applied in fall.
Detailed information related to the herbicide rates and efficacy on weeds can be obtained in the Herbicide section of E154 Michigan Fruit Management Guide, which contains lists of all currently labeled herbicides along with specific remarks for their use in vineyards.
The main diseases to focus on are bunch rots including botrytis and sour rot. Botrytis is becoming more common around the state. Several strategies contribute to good botrytis bunch rot management including opening up the canopy, effective insect control, properly applying fungicides, and using resistant cultivars when possible. Good botrytis control depends on getting good coverage. A Michigan Grape Fact Sheet is available for managing botrytis bunch rot.
We have also been seeing sour rot in a number of vineyards in southwest Michigan. It is usually characterized by clusters that smell like vinegar, juice that drips over the fruit surfaces, a melting-type decay with skin slippage, and vinegar flies and fly larvae typically present. Recent research has shown a significant correlation between insect activity and sour rot movement. These insects have been primarily vinegar flies, but at MSU we have observed yellow jackets, honey bees and bald-faced hornets on sour rot clusters. Recent research into a well-timed insecticide at 14 Brix along with a sterilant (e.g., Fracture or Oxidate) prior to sour rot symptoms is an effective method of control.
Another disease to not forget about is downy mildew. This disease is causing particular trouble for growers this year. The recent waves of rain and high humidity have created good conditions for repeated infection events. If they are permitted, fungicides that are broad-spectrum/contact like captan are effective products for resistance management. Viticultural practices that reduce canopy wetness such as good irrigation timing, leaf removal and good weed management can reduce these diseases in a vineyard.
The main concern with downy mildew at this time is late season defoliation. So far this season we have observed downy mildew more frequently than normal due to the high relative humidity and longer dew periods. Defoliation will impact winter hardiness and survival, as well as health of the vine next year. Effective fungicides for downy mildew include products in FRAC codes 4, 11, 21, 40 and 45 as well as phosphorus acid salts, captan and some biologically-based products.
Catches of grape berry moths in pheromone traps were very low this week indicating that the fourth generation of berry moth is declining. The cold wet weather will also inhibit further activity.
Wasps, bees and ants were common in vineyards recently, but their activity will also decline with the cool weather. They are attracted to the accumulating sugars in the berries. Yellow jackets can be very damaging to the berries directly, causing wounds that can lead to cluster rots and reducing harvestable crop. They can also be frustrating to sprayers and harvest crews, trying to avoid being stung while working with the ripening grapes. Picking in cooler weather can help avoid wasp stings, but it is challenging to reduce their abundance with sprays at this time of the year due to the difficulty in controlling all wasps in a nest. Interception of wasps using traps deployed at the vineyard border can help reduce their abundance if the traps are placed at a high enough density.
Vinegar flies are becoming common as more berries ripen and some fall from the vine or are opened by other insects or birds. These typical vinegar flies can develop on grapes only when the skin is broken, but with the presence of the invasive spotted wing Drosophila (SWD) in Michigan, it is more important to keep a regular check on clusters for development of vinegar flies in berries. These are associated with cluster rots and move the pathogens around.
The presence of vinegar flies in the canopy can be easily determined by disturbing the clusters, as the small flies will take off and be seen around the clusters. Managing berry quality after veraison and treatments for sour rot can help reduce the impacts of vinegar flies. If these are a challenge during this harvest, consider how you’ll change your management in 2022.
If treatment is needed this season, there are several shorter PHI insecticides available that can provide temporary protection from SWD and other vinegar flies, including Mustang Maxx, Leverage and Verdepryn. Check PHIs and talk to your processor before deciding on any treatments at this time of the year. — By Michael Reinke, Esmaeil Nasrollahiazar, Timothy Miles, Rufus Isaacs, Jacquelyn Perkins, Paolo Sabbatini and Sushila Chaudhari, Michigan State University Extension