BY AMY OBERLIN AMYO@KPCNEWS.NET
Sunday, 03 October 2010 00:00
Grape growing is not for the impatient.
It’s not quick money.
But for some northeastern Indiana property owners it has become a
“It is pretty challenging,” said Shane Christ, who has made wine and
tended grapes at Satek Winery near Fremont for nine years. He said
growing grapes in Indiana “is tough” but more and more people are giving
it a shot.
“Interest is booming,” Christ said. Satek Winery started in 1992 as a
vineyard selling grapes to area wineries. Now, the winery, opened in
2001, purchases from seven area growers.
“I really enjoy it,” said Tim Wolfe of rural Hamilton. “There’s ups and
downs … You have good years and you have bad years.”
Wolfe started his vines five years ago, and plans to double his
Bruce England of Big Run Vineyard near Butler moved to the area from
California wine country in 2005. Before relocating, he talked to Larry
Satek about the possibilities in northeastern Indiana. He raises the
deep purple Corot Noir grapes used in Larry’s Luscious Dry Red, a
vintage that saw its debut in 2009.
A GROWING HOBBY
Northeastern Indiana grapes growers enjoy home-made vintages, and
another Steuben County winery is planned.
Brian Moeller lives and grows grapes in the same vicinity as the Sateks
west of Fremont. BriAli Vineyard, which Moeller operates with his wife,
Alicia, anticipates opening an organic winery and restaurant in 2012.
Shipshewana family doctors Tony Pechin and Kerry Keaffaber, who term
themselves “hobby winemakers,” have considered starting a winery. “But
that’s a few years away,” said Pechin.
The doctors, Moeller, DeKalb County Extension Educator Alicia Berry and
around 20 others attended a meeting hosted by Satek Sept. 7 to assess
the interest in a local grape growers organization. Some were growers
aiming to make spare cash by tending grapes and others, like gold medal
award winning wine maker Alan Lockhart, focus on the vino.
The meeting was organized by Christ and growers Betty Lee and Donald
Hepworth. The idea is to share ideas, materials and support, possibly
through a website or regular meetings.
“All the growers really pitch in and help each other out,” said Wolfe.
Some of the equipment costs thousands of dollars, like a post pounder or
Since starting 1.7 acres of vines five years ago, England said he’s
begun seeing some payback from his investment.
“It’s nothing I would recommend someone trying to make a living at,”
said England, who calls grape growing a hobby.
England plans to try Cayuga White next year.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Just planting a variety of grapes is not the start of a fruitful
The soil has to be prepared, as Ph is important for proper production,
said Larry Satek. The rows need equal sunlight and open air, so the
vines cannot be allowed to get overgrown.
Weeds have to be pulled, branches must be trimmed, bugs and other pests
need to be deterred.
“It’s all I do, is pull weeds,” said Moeller. BriAli has vines at his
family’s golf course off S.R. 120, near the Satek operation, and an
organic grape operation at the Moellers’ nearby home.
“There’s more and more people that want their fruit to be clean,” said
Moeller. That includes a more environmentally friendly way to get rid of
“I’ll run through. I’ll clap. I’ll have my Aussie with me,” he said. He
said there are weeks he spends 60 hours in his vineyards.
Ron and Kay Kummer use large, colorful balloons with bold black markings
that deter birds.
“Every kind of critter comes out and eats your grapes that you can think
of,” said Peter Keck, a home grower. Then, he added, there are fungal
blights like powdery mildew.
Japanese beetles and the grape berry moth can also attack.
WEATHERING THE CLIMATE
Area grape growers can commiserate this year about a May 10 frost as
well as celebrate a hot, dry growing season.
The small, golden Traminette grapes at the Kummers “ripened perfectly,”
said Satek, surrounded by large green leaves on well tended vines and
the acappella harmonies of Amish women hand harvesting the fruit on a
recent sunny, September day.
Harvesting begins in mid-September and can run into October.
At Satek Winery, and other sites harvested by the Sateks, pickings occur
over the space of a few hours, with the date of the harvest determined
through a careful watch of the grape’s progress over the final weeks.
Satek said the optimum ripening conditions presented themselves this
year, with some nice cool nights during the final month.
Due to a warm, dry growing season, Satek grapes were in by Sept. 15.
Satek’s grapes are crushed and pressed immediately, and the 2010 wines
are now aging at the rural Fremont facility. A Traminette is expected to
be released in April or May.
“This year should be a really, really good wine,” Satek said.
Though the grapes are gone, the Kummers still enjoy their firepit by the
vineyard on a breezy hill across the lane from Clear Lake.
“It’s a nice place to be when it’s cold on the lake,” said Kay.
The Kummers purchased the land after moving to their cottage full time
from Fort Wayne. They planted their vines three years ago, a
back-breaking process Kay said led them to purchase hole-digging
The Kummers’ vines are young, and currently producing about half what
they will at five years old, when most grape vines go into full
production. The vines can live decades, up to 100 years, said Satek.
Many who expressed interest in the northeastern Indiana grape growers
group had relatively young vines, and were just starting their journey.
With spirit and patience, these new hobbyists may add to the area’s
landscape and culture.
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