Picking A Bunch

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA)
September 21, 2003

Picking a bunch
Vineyard survives a 'rocky' start
Author: by CRAIG REBER
Section: Business, Page: b1


HANOVER, Ill. - Jared and Phyllis Spahn dream identical dreams.

"My wife woke up one morning and told me she had a dream that we had just put in a vineyard," Spahn said. "I said, 'I did too.' So we did it." However, Rocky Waters Vineyards didn't occur overnight, having been in operation about seven years. Several weeks ago the vineyard, located east of Hanover, underwent its first substantial harvest. "We're young," Spahn said. He hopes to open the vineyard to the public next year.This year's harvest is in the low teens compared to four tons in 2002 and one ton in 2001. Considering a herd of curious beef cattle once trampled a fledgling vineyard nursery, "rocky" probably best describes the Spahn's start. Three hundred out of 3,600 grape seedlings survived the bovine stampede, but Spahn never lost sight of his dream. Today, 25 acres produce mostly red wine grapes. The Marechal Foch consists of 70 percent of the grapes grown. It also produces LaCrosse and St. Pepin grapes! . There also is a small test plot for table juice and jam-type grapes.Spahn points out real fertile soil isn't conducive to grape production. "Grapes like to suffer," he said. "They find their own water." Spahn uses minimal fertilizer and employs a spray program to control pests and mildew. With a dearth of ultra-high and low temperatures, northwest Illinois' weather is fairly conducive to grape production. "They like sun," he said, adding that the number "degree days," necessary for production, are within 10 degree days of California's famed Napa Valley. Spahn also said that few people are aware that prior to Prohibition, grape production was common in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. During Prohibition, vineyards were replaced with corn and soybean fields. Spahn estimates the cost at $30,000 per acre before he's had a return on his investment. "It's not for the faint of heart," he said. "The rule of thumb ! is you won't break even until year seven. If you're here just ! to grow grapes, don't quit your day job."

A native of Dubuque and 1961 Loras College graduate, Spahn lived in the Peoria area for more than 30 years. Spahn said his profession as a computer-systems consultant supports the vineyard. In the late 1970s, Spahn was one of the first instructors in the Midwest for the UNIX computer operating system.

Spahn's wine education has its roots in the Napa Valley - as well as Wisconsin. When his job took him to California for six months, he and Phyllis rented a condominium. They spent weekends and off-time studying wine production in the Napa region.

"Our layout resembles strongly what you would see in Napa," he said.

This year, Rocky Vineyard Waters sold grapes to Bob Wollersheim Winery of Prairie du Sac, Wis. The combination of a year-long drought, coupled with last fall's heavier than usual crop, stressed the vines and put a tremendous dent into the Prairie du Sac operation.

Wollersheim is the sta! te's largest winemaker and produced a record 178,000 gallons of wine last year. Spahn obtained his grapes from Wollersheim, who showed him how to plant them.

"He's somewhat of a mentor," Spahn said.

Spahn plans to open a small winery next year, expand the number of grape-growing acres and to expand the operation's marketing efforts.


Copyright (c) 2003 Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA)
Record Number: 0FDC12BD52AC1234