Leelanau Wine: Do-It-Yourself Vintners

This year, Linda is testing the soil for both macro and micronutrients—macro being nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus; micro being trace elements, such as manganese, magnesium, boron, which are important during certain growing stages. Using the results of her soil micromanagement, she plans to test a new claim that foliar sprays—nutrient-laden juice sprayed on the leaves at key times of the year—can improve the flavor of the grapes.

Of course, even with few vines to baby, accidents and missteps happen. In their first years with cultivated vines the Schuberts planted the vines inside two-foot soil plots; turns out four feet is the minimum. They planted strawberries between the vines to make use of the space; but the strawberries plants attracted weeds and increased competition for nutrients. And though they can’t remember who was to blame, somebody once ran over a vine with the lawnmower. The Schuberts soldiered on, turning each obstacle into another opportunity to learn. Seemed the pruning did the vine good, and it flourished. The pair have pruned heartily ever since.

“Our anthem has always been, ‘Oh well, maybe next year,’” says Linda.

Art adds, “If you’re going to get heartbroken, you can’t be an agriculturist.”

On a wet, gray Sunday afternoon in late September, Art retreats to his makeshift winery in the basement. The chemistry takes place in a tight corner made tighter by racks of dozens of wine bottles, a dresser victimized by a crayon-wielding child and dozens of dusty storage boxes. A laboratory’s worth of giant glass jugs of settling juices, tubes, vials and wine bottles sit on tables, the slab floor, an old air conditioner unit—wherever there’s space.

The Schuberts’ grapes are still on the vines outside, left to sweeten as they sap up the last rays of the Indian summer. Winemakers hope for a yield of 15 pounds of grapes per vine, which should bring about a gallon of wine—or five bottles per vine. But the Schuberts’ longstanding goal is to have a decent homemade wine with dinner several times a week. So in addition to their own grapes, they improve their odds by making wine from the leftover grapes Linda brings home from the horticulture station where she volunteers. They also buy kits—packages of either pure juice, or blends of juice and concentrate.

Today Art is bottling the juice, or “must,” of a kit of muscatel, a fruity, dense, smooth and, true to its name, musky variety of wine grapes. He yanks on the string of a bare light bulb hanging among the copper plumbing pipes overhead, then crouches down to inspect the juice. It sits in a 5-gallon glass jug, a pale straw-colored liquid, save for a pool of cloudy sediment lodged among the layer of marbles at the bottom.

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