Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Vines to Wines

Basehor winery plants for future with assistance from volunteers

Two dozen volunteers spent their early morning hour on Sunday planting rootstalks at Holy-Field 	Vineyard and Winery in Basehor. It will take a few years before these vines are ready to produce suitable grapes for wine making.

Two dozen volunteers spent their early morning hour on Sunday planting rootstalks at Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery in Basehor. It will take a few years before these vines are ready to produce suitable grapes for wine making.

April 9, 2008

Corky, Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery's mascot, flopped down and made himself comfortable in the dirt alongside about two dozen planting crew volunteers Sunday morning.

One of the selections on the vineyard's wine list is the easy-going Landseer Newfoundland's namesake, so it was only natural for Corky to join the rest of the Holy-Field regulars as they busily planted the vines that will someday produce their favorite Holy-Field wines.

Most of Sunday's volunteers have been coming to the Basehor-based vineyard and winery for years to participate in wine-tastings, murder mystery dinners, live jazz and grape picking during the summer, but co-owner Michelle Myer said their plans for "vineyard renovations" were a perfect opportunity for enthusiasts to be a part of the entire process.

"It's from the ground to the glass," she said. "What a better way to have a real appreciation for a product?"

It was an overcast day with a slight chill in the air, but at least it was dry. The holes to plant the vines were dug last fall in preparation for the project, and Michelle and her father, Les Myer, have been waiting for the weather to cooperate.

Down the line

The group formed an efficient assembly line, dipping the rootstalks in fertilizer, placing one in each hole, adding a little more fertilizer and a stick of bamboo for stability and then covering the entire tiny plant with soil. Once the plant grows a few leaves and makes its way out of the dirt, it is uncovered and a grow tube is placed around each plant for continued protection as it matures. Any grapes these vines bear in the first two years are pruned to allow the plant to focus all of its energy on establishing its roots and trunk first, Michelle said. A little babying goes a long way because happy grapevines produce quality fruit, which makes great tasting wine.

"When you plant these vines, you're looking at a 25- to 30-year commitment," Les said. "They produce like you treat them. You've got to kiss on them quite a bit."

And, the Myers know a thing or two about commitment and making a superior product. They planted about 400 vines in 1986 for their own personal winemaking, and by 1994 they had a 14-acre vineyard and winery. It didn't take long for people to take notice, and soon the Myers were collecting fans of all ages from all across the globe as well as numerous winemaking awards, which they now proudly display on the wall in their gift shop.

Sunday's crew consisted of mostly Kansas City-area enthusiasts, including 8-year-old Erin Laney, Basehor, who has been picking grapes at the winery with her family since she was a toddler. In addition, Lawrence native Steven Berger, who sells Holy-Field wines at his store, The Wine Cellar in Lawrence, was part of the crew.

Although Berger claimed his favorite wine was "the one in his glass," he said Holy-Field educates visitors on the year-round maintenance of a vineyard and labor-intensive process of winemaking. Plus, it's always fun to pick the grapes, then buy the wine those grapes produce.

"It lets you have a little ownership in it; a relationship," he said. "It's a lot easier to talk about and sell wine when you come out and do this kind of stuff."

Vines, vines, everywhere vines

Almost 200 vines were planted Sunday to add to the 375 put in last week, and more will be planted this weekend, Michelle said. The group focused on three varieties of white grapes - Muscat, Chardonel and Melody - to satisfy the growing demand for the wines Holy-Field produces, especially the Melody wine, which seemed to be a favorite among the planting crew.

"It's a really good white wine that you can drink with almost anything," said Debbie Lecluyse, Olathe.

The Melody grapes were also the hardest hit by last year's late freeze - an inevitable hazard for Midwestern vineyards. Michelle said she and Les remembered watching the temperature gradually fall throughout the week until it reached 18 degrees April 8, 2007. The Melody crop was wiped out, but luckily the vines were salvaged.

"My dad always said, 'that Mother Nature - she can be a cruel mother,'" Michelle said with a laugh. "In this region, we're in danger of a freeze until Mother's Day. Last year was a fluke. We've never seen anything like it."

But, the Myers are thankful there aren't any fair-weather Holy-Field fans. Planting crew members were excited to get their hands dirty and work hard for the satisfaction of knowing they were contributing to the future of the vineyard and winery and would someday see the fruits of their labor. Les and Michelle know the business thrives on not only their love for the process and the product as owners, but the adoration from their supporters as well.

"This isn't a 9 to 5 job," Michelle said. "It's a lifestyle. There's always something to do here. This way they're a part of it and they watch it come to life. The beauty of Holy-Field is that it all comes from here."

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