They grow grapes

for wine by the ton

Andrea and Nick Havlik of Belgium run a 10-acre vineyard in the Town of Saukville that supplies Wisconsin wineries. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

It’s not that Nick Havlik particularly enjoys tending to plants when it’s 10 degrees in bone-chilling wind or when it’s 90 and humid, but one thing makes it all worth it.

“When you have a passion for something, it’s not work,” he said.

Nick and his wife Andrea share a passion for growing grapes. They lease a 10-acre parcel in the Town of Saukville that they call Hav Vineyards.

Yes, a vineyard can exist in Wisconsin, albeit with different and tougher grapes than those in California. The Havliks grow 10 varieties of grapes that can handle temperatures as cold as 50 below zero.

Unlike most operations, Hav Vineyards doesn’t have a winery attached to it, but with more than 5,000 vines is one of the largest stand-alone vineyards in the state.

But it’s a secret.

“No one knows this is here,” Nick said.

The Havliks want to change that and add another fermented beverage to the perception of a state known for beer. They want to help tell a story behind bottles of wine people pick up at the store.

“We’re excited to bring attention to the wine industry in Wisconsin,” Andrea said.

“The state should want it,” Nick said. “We want wine to be known, and it can be.”

This wasn’t exactly the Havliks’ original plan.

Nick is from Westby, Wis., and teaches technical education at Port Washington High School. Andrea is from the Cedarburg area and works in hospitality at Kohler Co.

When it comes to the vineyard, the couple jokes that Andrea is the CEO and Nick is the CFO — chief farming officer.

Andrea was used to the farming lifestyle because her grandfather and uncle had big dairy farms.

Nick’s family makes wine and his parents had a small garden.

The Havliks have been married for eight years and have two daughters and a Goldendoodle named Pepin, after the St. Pepin grape, which is grown in their vineyard.

They started their vineyard after picking grapes near Madison.

They bumped into the landowner by chance at a winery, and the next thing they knew they were growing grapes on a half acre of property in 2014.

The couple delved into research. Soil sampling is key; portions of the 10 acres have rocky soil and others don’t.

“You just really have to do your homework on the land,” Andrea said.

In six years, the Havliks’ vineyard has grown from 355 vines to 5,500. Each row is 230 feet long and yields about 500 pounds of grapes.

They are constantly doing research and have developed relationships with grape growers and wineries across the state.

Growing grapes is delayed gratification. In three years, new vines may harvest a ton of grapes. In the next two years, the hope is seven tons.

“You put tens of thousands of dollars into them and they will make diddly-squat,” Nick said. “It’s not only a labor of love. It’s a labor of love you don’t get paid for for years.”

The Havliks take measures to protect their investment. An electric fence baited with peanut butter surrounding the vines helps limit the impact of deer, but raccoons go right through. They once took down two rows of vines.

The vines require regular maintenance Nick makes the 10-minute drive from the couple’s home in Belgium almost daily during summer, spending 30 to 40 hours per week manicuring the vines and checking their health. He has to pull the leaves away so the sun hits the grapes and tie vines up so they grow properly from the top down. Last week, he sprayed to get rid of Japanese beetles.

Like any farmer, Nick keeps an eye to the sky with multiple weather apps.

“I would quit this just so I don’t have to watch the weather all the time. It’s so stressful,” he said.

The Havliks learned that the weather at home may not be the same conditions at the vineyard.

“You need to understand the mircoclimate that’s here,” Andrea said.

Hail bumps off leaves and ruptures grapes. Spring frost kills primary plant buds. Heavy rain in September is the death knell, causing grapes to burst, which draws ants, bees and birds, and leads to sour rot, a vinegar-like substance.

Work starts in January in almost any weather, including two feet of snow. Nick spends at least an hour per day five days a week through April just pruning, which itself is a skill in grape growing.

After manicuring the vines during summer, the best part of the season arrives in September: harvest.

“It’s so much fun to see the fruit in the big bins,” Andrea said.

Nick enjoys the peace of nature.

“On a fall afternoon out here, there’s nothing better,” he said.

The Havliks and their family hand pick the grapes. Mechanical pickers, Nick said, cost about $300,000 and wineries don’t like them.

Hand picking also allows the Havliks to share their passion with new people. Nonprofit organizations may pick with payment in bottles of wine or money. Most people can pick about 100 pounds in an hour, Nick said.

Grape picking is done early in the morning and is completed by noon, when it gets too hot for the grapes.

Andrea eats some of the grapes throughout the day and has to remind others to beware of what’s inside.

“Grapes have seeds. That’s what a normal grape is,” she said.

This year, the Havliks hope to harvest 100,000 pounds of grapes that will be sold to two Wisconsin wineries.

Their work isn’t lost on those in the prime grape-growing part of the country.

Nick said a wine expert from California once told the Havliks, ‘If you can grow grapes here, you can grow them anywhere.’

The couple puts the extra grapes to good use, making juice with pulp or another favorite treat.

“We make jelly and it’s better than anything you can buy in a store,” Nick said.

For more information, visit the Hav Vineyards Facebook or Instagram pages.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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