Thursday, July 3, 2008


The vineyard has been planted. Vines went in a few weeks ago now, just haven't had a chance to take and upload photos. As I mentioned before, it is ridiculously small -- the entire vineyard consists of 5 vines. At maximum production in a good year, I hope to max out production at 5 gallons of wine, about 2 cases (24 - 750 mL bottles). Certainly not a huge amount, but not bad for someone who someone who lives on a tenth of an acre in a city.

First up is the east vineyard, our showpiece:
Happy vine:

One of the nice features of the "urban vineyard" is that you can make the vineyard a landscaping element. Below, there are two mock-ups for potential ground cover -- smooth river stones to the left, and angular slate to the right. I think the river stone is the prefered look, so placing that throughout the vineyard will be the next step.

On the rugged west side of our estate, we find the lone remaining vine. Basically, I ordered 5 vines and only had room for 4, so I stuck this guy here. It's not as sunny and right next to the garage. Also note the classy chain-link fence nearby. If it ever produces viable wine grapes, I'll be shocked. I may get inspired some day and stick some more vines over here if this guy does reasonably well.

That's all for now -- next steps are ground cover and then trellis construction. I'll also keep you posted on the vine's growth progress. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Vine selection

After a lot of reading and internet scouring, the vine variety has been selected: Marquette. In spite of my general distaste for Marquette University, this vine appears to fit my criteria the best.

Marquette is a hybrid vine, which means it is a cross between European and native American vines. The well-known European varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, etc) are all members of the species vitis vinifera. Common American varieties have many species names, and include the common varieties Concord and Delaware, names which don't exactly conjure up thoughts of sublime wines (Motts and Ocean Spray are more up their alley). The catch is that those American varieites are (surprise, suprise) really good at dealing with the American climate and ecology: resistance to frigid winters and diseases being the most important.

Anyway, the goal of any hybrid is to capture the desirable characteristics of each parent. In this case, hybrid grape vines attempt to capture the winter hardiness and disease resistance of American vines, and the wine quality of European vines. How well does it work? Pretty well: the hardiness and disease resistance are fairly well replicated. The wine quality is a little tougher however. At their best, the hybrids I've had are quite enjoyable, whites Seyval Blanc and Cayuga are my favorites, but they are pretty far from the best wines I've ever tasted.

So why don't I try my luck with a vitis vinifera variety? Is it possible to grow these vines in the midwest? Probably, but it's probably also a pain in the ass. I don't really know what the hell I'm doing, so a bit of idiot-proffness built into my vines appeals to me. Plus, I don't want to be spraying the vines all summer to ward off disease, only to worry all winter about whether they'll survive.

I'm also an engineer, and I like the idea of tinkering with a product to optimize its results. That is exactly what the University of Minnesota is doing with its viticulture hybridization program: churing out highly winter-hardy and disease-varieties to bolster their state's wine economy. Marquette is the newest release by UMN, and their review of the potential wine quality is downright glowing. I'd prefer a Robert Parker-style independent review of the potential quality, but this will have to do.

The vines have been ordered and I patiently await their arrival sometime next week. In the meantime, I've been working like a dog getting the site ready. An update on the plot and some photos will follow shortly.

In the meantime, visit a brother vineyard across the pond. Phil's got a LOT more vines than I'll have! Plus he's going whole hog: vitis vinifera, and the toughest of them all, Pinot Noir. Good luck Phil! And while you're at it, the best wine site on the internet, where Phil and I "met".

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Hello, first post here on my new project: an impossibly small, impossibly poorly situated vineyard I'm creating in my backyard in Evanston, IL. I've been a wine drinker for over a decade, and over that time have become interested in the idea of creating it as well. Late last summer my wife and I re-landscaped our backyard, and the new design resulted in an open, sunny strip of ground available on one side of our lot. Seizing my opportunity, I pitched the idea of a row of grape vines to my wife, and much to my surprise the idea was not shot down. Spring has arrived in Chicagoloand, so the time to establish the vineyard is upon us!

Scouring the internet for information on planting grape vines yielded a lot of information, but most is related to larger, more rural vineyards, which have different challenges than the ones I'll face. What I'm envisioning for this blog is an information source (through my own trial and error) for people interested in what I'm trying to do: create a vineyard on the land you already have, reagrdless of whether it's a less than optimal size and location. And of course, you will also get the obligitory blogger rants and raves about other things I find myself interested in from time to time.

Stay tuned for a lot more information: preparing the soil, selecting the grape variety, acquiring the vines, and establishing the vineyard - all of which will happen in the next month or so. In the meantime, visit only website you should ever need if your loves are beer, electronics, and Indianapolis.