Little bit of Italy right here in our backyard
Emerson Haugen of Canby wasn’t interested in picking grapes with his mother, Brittany.
He was much more interested in pulling them off the cluster that he held tightly in his hand and popping them into his mouth like candy. In a matter of minutes, the 2 1/2 year old had stripped the entire cluster clean and was looking for more. The Somerset table grapes he was inhaling are almost like eating candy.
They are one of the seven varieties grown by Minneota teacher Hollie Thompson and her husband, Jerry, at 3B Vineyard in Dawson.
“We named it 3B after our three boys, Braxton, Braden and Blake,” explained Hollie, who has taught Early Childhood Special Education the past 15 years in Minneota.
Because of the sandy and loamy soil on a portion of their farm three miles north of Dawson, the Thompsons figured growing grapes would be the best solution.
They also have 650 acres of corn and soybeans. “This was my grandfather’s farm (Ray Strom) and we moved here about 10 years ago,” said Hollie.
“We started growing grapes about six years ago and now we have about 4,500 plants.”
John and Sue Roisen, who live nearby and run the 12-acre Lac qui Parle Valley Vineyard, have an even larger vineyard, assisted the Thompsons in getting their vineyard established a few years ago.
“They were such a big help to us,” said Hollie. “Any time we had a question on something, they would answer it for us.”
The first year the Thompsons put up a trellis system, it took them three weeks. The second year it only took them one week.
“And the third year it only took us three days. We had it down to a science,” Hollie said with a wide smile. The Thompsons make grape jelly, grape syrup and grape juice to sell, as well as selling table grapes.
At an Open House recently at 3B Vineyard for patrons wishing to pick their own grapes, bachelor brothers Lawrence and John Haas of Madison visited the farm to pick some grapes for Lawrence’s 90th birthday party. Jerry gave the two personable gentlemen a tour of the vineyard on a Ranger Side-by-Side.
“I'm humbled that an 89-year-old man was amazed at the massiveness of this,” said Jerry.
“Of all the things he’s seen in his life; to be so impressed with our (vineyard) was pretty special.” And the riders were equally humbled by Jerry taking the time to drive them around. “They have quite a place here,” said John Haas.
“And they are so helpful and friendly. I really enjoyed my time here today.”
The Thompsons, who are now members of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association, sell their LaCrescent grapes to the Chankaska Creek Winery in St. Peter, while the Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac, Brianna, and Marquette are sold to the Grandview Valley Winery in Belview.
“All the winemakers want LaCrescent grapes,” said Hollie. “But they’re harder to grow.” The types and varieties of grapes abound. There are table grapes, wine grapes, grapes for juice, grapes for jelly, grapes for syrup, grapes with seeds, and grapes with no seeds.
They can be blue-black, green, white, red or purple. The Somerset seedless table grapes are generally sold to the public, while King of the North are used by 3B Vineyard to make grape jam, grape juice or grape syrup to sell to its customers.
3B Vineyards also host field trips for schools such as Minneota, which purchases the King of the North grapes to use in their Food and Consumer Science classes.
Looking at the neat rows of various grapes at 3B Vineyard is impressive. The rows of vines are secured by high wires so they can be shaken off the vines mechanically, or by vertical shoot positioning (VSP).
The vines are in neat rows, the colors of the leaves are vivid, and the grapes show little or no imperfections to them. In other words, they are being well taken care of. But growing grapes isn’t as easy as it looks.
“We have to put netting on all the grapes to keep the birds off,” said Hollie. “Occasionally, though, a bird gets into the net. That’s where Charlie comes in.”
Charlie is the Thompson’s gentle yellow lab who patrols the rows of grapes in search of trapped birds. If a bird is caught up high in the netting, Charlie will shake the netting until the bird falls to the ground and then takes it in his mouth and removes it. And shortly after explaining about Charlie’s exploits, Hollie spots a bird trapped in one of the nettings. “Charlie; bird,” she calls out. Seconds later, Charlie comes lumbering around a corner and goes to work.
Besides birds trying to get a taste of the grapes, there are other hazards the Thompsons have to deal with much like their other crops.
And pruning the vines each fall is essential for a good harvest.
“The hardest part it pruning each year,” said Jerry.
“We’ll try to pick a nice October day before it gets cold and cut back before they go dormant. It takes about five minutes to prune each plant.”
And remember, there are around 4,500 plants at the vineyard; you do the math. And you thought all teachers took summers off.
To check on the availability of grapes for sale, call Hollie at 507-829-1334.