Entertained and Educated at Fenn Valley Wine Fest
The 2012 Fenn Valley Wine Fest and Open House on June 23rd featured not only wine and entertainment but also some serious education for the inquisitive wine consumer.
Throughout the day, a wine tasting demonstration by winemaker and winery president Doug Welsch showed how the same vintage of Riesling could be made into multiple styles of wine. The group tasting exercise also helped guests to distinguish between sweet and fruity flavors in wine.
The first bone dry version of Riesling that Welsch poured proved unpopular in a show of hands vote. The second Riesling in the tasting, Welsch explained, was sweetened to 1.65% grams per litre residual sugar by adding commercial cane sugar. This wine was more popular than the first.
This third wine tasted was the 2011 Fenn Valley Riesling that won a Double Gold at the 2012 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. This wine had a distinctive fruit flavor and aroma that the first two Rieslings lacked. Some tasters said they perceived the award-winning wine as being sweeter than the second wine. However, in reality the award-winning Riesling had only slightly more sugar (2.1% grams per litre) than the second wine which was intentionally sweetened with sugar.
Welsch explained that the award-winning Riesling, which is produced at 7,600 gallons per year, was made by stopping the fermentation at a critical point by running the wine through a centrifuge. By stopping the fermentation, Welsch said that Fenn Valley can produce a wine that tastes neither dry or sweet to most palates while accentuating the character of the estate grown grapes.
Welsch has stressed the relationship between a healthy vineyard and wine quality since his family started growing grapes near Fennville, MI, during 1973. Welsch said his 110,000 gallon per year winery proves that growing vinifera wine grapes in Michigan is commercially viable on a large-scale. Festival visitors received an up close view of how Fenn Valley grows vinifera grapes during numerous guided vineyard tours.
Speaking to a group of sun protected wine enthusiasts in a row of six-foot tall Chardonnay vines, vineyard manager Todd Robbins explained how he is able to grow vinifera grape varietals in a cold climate zone. “We’re pushing the limit of what can be grown in Michigan so we have developed techniques to produce quality fruit,” he said.
Robbins, a Michigan State University grad, demonstrated the disc system he uses to pile up dirt around each vine in the winter to protect the vine’s roots. Using the disc attachment mounted on a farm tractor, he piled dirt from the vineyard rows around the bottom of each grapevine so that the graft union of each plant is insulated by soil.
“Getting the dirt to ‘hill up’ is easy,” he explained. “The hard part is getting the dirt off .” He then showed guests how an adapted road sweeping brush is used to remove the protective dirt during spring (see photos that accompany this article.) Without the special measures to protect the vines, Robbins believes they might perish if temperatures dipped below zero in the winter.
This was the 22nd year for the Fenn Valley Wine Fest. Welsch said the first Fest had 202 attendees. “The first year my mother made home-baked bread, and we grilled bratwurst,” he said. “Last year we had over 1,700 people, and we were reaching capacity. This year we did not do a Groupon and we expect about 1,400 guests.”
Welsh said he also expects to hold the price of his top-selling Demi Sec wine at $8 bottle in spite of possible grape shortages caused by spring freeze damage throughout the Midwest. Fenn Valley Demi Sec is a blend of Vidal, Vignoles, Traminette, and Riesling.