Lifetime of a Vine
The Grape Life Cycle
Every year, year after year, we at Chateau Grand Traverse marvel at the seasons of the grapes’ lives. It’s a story told through the vines and how they respond to their environment and the care we give them. Learn about the glorious grape life cycle in northern Michigan.
Bud Break: April – May
The cycle begins in spring with bud break, which usually occurs in mid-May but can happen earlier if we get unusually warm temperatures early on. This phase is often one of the most worrisome for viticulturalists because the fragile buds are just beginning to awaken from winter dormancy and are susceptible to frost and other harsh weather.
We’ve been asked, “Do grape vines flower?” And the answer is yes, they do! During the blossom stage of the grape life cycle, which typically happens in late June, little blooms burst from the vine, ready to realize their full potential. These flowers are self-pollinating—the pollen and stigma are both present, so there’s no need for insects or wind intervention to turn the flower turn into the fruit that makes your wine.
Fruit Set: July
The fruit set stage is when viticulturalists really begin to get a feel for their potential yield for the season. Flowers that do not successfully self-pollinate fall off the vine, while those that succeed yield clusters of small green berries: grapes!
Beginning in later summer and continuing through the end of August is veraison, or ripening. This stage is marked by the grape varieties beginning to show their true colors and build up sugar content. Red wine varieties become red, purple, or blueish in color, while white wine varieties turn a bit yellow. As the grapes fully mature, the level of ripeness helps determine the particular style of wine, and it influences the flavor profile too.
Harvest: September – October
When it comes to the lifecycle of a grape vine, harvest time is undoubtedly the most exciting. All the waiting, watching, and tending to the vines has paid off. Now winemakers can focus on their final analysis of the grapes’ suitability for harvesting—measuring sugar content, acidity, and pH. Tasting and testing. Ultimately, when the harvest is complete, winemakers can assess their final yield for the year. Here at Chateau Grand Traverse, a typical year yields 500 to 600 tons of grapes across our 200+ acres of estate and grower vineyards.
Dormancy: November – March
After the harvest, and as temperatures start to drop, the grape vines enter the dormancy period, when they get a much-needed rest before next year’s season. During dormancy, viticulturalists take advantage of the opportunity to prune the grape vines, diligently preparing each one for the fruitful year ahead.
How Fast Do Grape Vines Grow?
In one season, a healthy grape vine could grow several canes that measure more than 12 feet long. It’s astonishing to see! Of course, vigorous growth like this is dependent on proper pruning, weather conditions, and care.
How Long Is a Grape Vine Life Span?
The typical grape vine fruiting age is three years old. If it fruits before then, it stresses the vine and the grapes won’t be wine-worthy. So, how long do grape vines produce fruit? A mature vine will produce fruit for decades! However, typically after 30 years, a grape vine’s production decreases—though it’s still capable of bearing fruit for much longer. Well-tended vines can live for 50, 80, or even 100 years.
How long a vineyard business continues to tend and harvest older vines is ultimately an economic decision, hinging on operating costs and environmental factors like pest control and irrigation.
Michigan grape vines, especially those in northern Michigan, often live a long time because of something our region gets a lot of: snow. It may seem surprising, but snow acts as a great insulator for vines during dormancy, keeping the ground at a good, stable temperature. Chateau Grand Traverse hasn’t experienced serious winter vine deaths in the 45 years we’ve been making wine. As we like to say, snow is our friend.
Come See for Yourself
We invite you to come for a wine tasting and stroll the grounds, experiencing for yourself the different life cycles of the grape vine. Or, if you can’t make it in person, be sure to order a bottle (or two!) from our online store.
As you sip, take a moment to reflect on the different stages of the grape life cycle, and the evolution those grapes went through to produce your wine!
We make wine one time a year – one year at a time.