The Summer of the Soil: Owner of Trattoria Stella Launches New Vineyard Project on Former Mission

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A new vineyard is coming to Old Mission Peninsula, but it will be unlike any other northern Michigan vineyard. The brainchild of Amanda Danielson, owner and sommelier of Trattoria Stella, the project is partly a training ground for the winemakers of tomorrow, partly a laboratory for research into environmentally friendly cultivation practices and partly a springboard towards a more prestigious future for Northern Michigan wine. .

Last September, Danielson purchased a 20-acre property on the Old Mission Peninsula, located at 14695 Mapleton Lane. She plans to turn the plot into a vineyard, but not a vineyard that would include a tasting room or a production plant. Instead, Danielson will grow wine grapes, food crops, mushrooms and flowers in the field, with plans to sell the yield to wineries, restaurants, florists and more. Its vision is to work with aspiring farmers or winegrowers – including students studying horticulture or viticulture, migrant workers or young farmers inheriting farmland from their parents – and to provide a place where these people can learn farming techniques that are productive and profitable but also good. For the environment.

Currently, Danielson is working with Michigan State University Extension and several other partners to design strategies that will minimize carbon footprint and maximize land use. These ideas include everything from compost and biochar, to planting cover crops, to using non-cultivable land for greenhouses or on-site employee housing.

Danielson will begin operations on the property later this year with what she calls “soil summer,” which will involve digging “soil pits” in several places on the plot. Soil health and composition, she explains, can have a huge impact on the types of wine grapes that can grow, the health of the fruit, and the quality of the wine produced from those grapes. By assessing the ground down to eight feet, Danielson hopes to formulate a master plan that will “maximize the property’s potential from a business perspective while prioritizing the health of the land.”

In addition to soil tests, Danielson will use a variety of other basic information – including “historical weather data, sun exposure, wind movement, [and] temperature at various points” – to inform its growth strategies.

“I want to use science to find the balance between what the land needs and what I want to grow,” Danielson said. The ticker, adding that “grapes grown with the intention of producing truly world-class wine is a key objective”, but also acknowledging that not all parts of the territory are suitable for vines. The remaining portions of the property will primarily be used for other types of crops, which in turn will diversify the farm’s production, promote better soil health, and eliminate the need for pesticides or herbicides.

“For me, it’s natural that I plant every square inch of something that serves the soil or the community,” Danielson continues. “The farm will be beautiful in its diversity, with healthy sunflowers, border crops and trees providing a habitat for beneficial insects and animals while protecting the vines and vegetables from chemical drift from other farms.”

One of the main partners in the project is Dr. Paolo Sabbatini, professor of viticulture at MSU and member of the MSU Extension program. According to Sabbatini, MSU sees this project as a way to help fill two of the biggest gaps in Michigan’s wine industry: research and education.

“[The northern Michigan wine industry] is very young,” says Sabbatini. “The first wine grapes in Traverse City were planted in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So we really only have 50 years of experience growing grapes in Traverse City, and that’s not It’s not much when you compare it to the history of other growing regions – thousands of years in Europe and hundreds of years in California.

According to Sabbatini, MSU is particularly interested in the possibility of researching wine grafting. By now, he notes, grape growers in northwest Michigan have a good idea of ​​which wine grapes grow best in the region’s climate and soils. “But we don’t know much about how different cultivars interact with different rootstocks,” he says. “The vines can be grafted to grow on roots that do not belong to the same grape variety. Different types of rootstocks may be more drought tolerant or perform better in sandy soils. This variability in the behavior of rootstocks, depending on different soils and different varieties, is still totally unknown in Michigan. We are going to start a project on [Danielson’s] property where part of the planting will be devoted to understanding the interaction between different varieties in relation to different rootstocks.

This approach, adds Sabbatini, can help “refine” northern Michigan viticulture. Armed with more data, grape growers could theoretically select specific scions for higher fruit yields, higher fruit quality, better growth in certain soil types, or crops less susceptible to pests and diseases.

Another key partner is Dave Bos of Elk Rapids-based BOS Wine. Bos was part of Danielson’s original restaurant team when she opened Stella in 2004, but he moved to California soon after to take a crash course in the world of wine. He eventually became vineyard manager at the Grgich Hills estate in Napa Valley, where he converted 367 acres to biodynamic and organic farming practices. Now back in northern Michigan, Bos says there’s a definite trend toward organic and eco-friendly farming among vineyards in the region.

“Biodynamics is really about focusing on the health, quality and vitality of the agricultural ecosystem,” Bos explains. “I think the wine industry is interested in it because if you grow better grapes, you make more money. This is not necessarily true in the dairy industry or in most staple crops. If you are the best corn grower in Nebraska, you probably still get the same price as the worst corn grower. But we can charge a premium [for better wine or better wine grapes].”

That’s the other major goal of Danielson’s new farm: to use better growing practices to produce better fruit, and in turn let that change set off a domino effect that will (hopefully) lead to Michigan wines. higher quality, to more profitable local wineries, and more features on wine lists in other parts of the world.

“World-class wine comes from respecting every point in the cycle, from the land to the glass,” she says. “One of the opportunities I see is being able to increase what growers actually get paid for their grapes per ton, simply by growing better. There is a huge demand right now – and not enough – for high quality fruit. quality and well grown. And already we are seeing a push for this type of fruit there. Bryan Ulbrich of Left Foot Charley, for example, is asking his growers to grow this way, because it’s better: better fruit, better for the environment, better everything. So you already see that trend there; I just want to make it more comprehensive.

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