Michigan Wine

Michigan wine refers to any wine that is made from grapes grown in the U.S. state of Michigan. Michigan contains four American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) known for the production of quality wine: Fennville, Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula, and Old Mission Peninsula. As of 2006, there were 1,500 acres (6 km²) under wine-grape cultivation and 45 commercial wineries in Michigan, producing 300,000 cases of wine. Wine and wine tourism were estimated to be a $100 million industry.

Grapes Grown

Almost all grapes grown in Michigan are grown for "table" uses, not wine. Of 100,000 tons of grapes produced in 2005, only 4,600 tons were used for wine-making. These were 2,640 tons of European vinifera varieties, 1,660 tons of hybrid varieties, and 300 tons of American varieties. European grapes grown include Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Riesling.

Almost all of Michigan's wine grapes are grown within 25 miles (40 km) of Lake Michigan where lake effect provides a favorable microclimate compared to interior regions of the state. The northern wine regions have a 145 day growing season while the southern ones have a 160 day season.

The Greater Traverse City area, which includes the peninsulas of Leelenau and Old Mission, is one of the primary Michigan wine areas. The soil is sandy, with good drainage, and a lake-dominated climate allows a longer growing season than in most of the U.S. Midwest. 51% of Michigan's wine grapes are grown in this area.

The same advantages exist, to a slightly lesser degree, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan south of Grand Rapids in the Fennville and Lake Michigan Shore regions. 45% of Michigan's wine grapes are grown in this area.

Sweet Wine

The traditional wines of Michigan were sweet wines, often made from grape varieties native to North America, such as the Catawba, Concord, and Niagara, or from hybrid grapes partly descended from these varieties. North American native grapes bear the advantage of being adapted to local growing conditions with consequent high production. In addition, local growers can switch back and forth between the production of sweet wine and grape juice. Of Michigan's 13,500 acres (55 km²) under grape cultivation, only 11%, 1,500 acres (6 km²), were devoted to wine grapes as of 2006.

Michigan's wine industry only dates from after the repeal of Prohibition. With large plantings of Concord in the southwest, mostly for the Welch Grape Juice Company, the state was well positioned to enter wine production. Four large wineries (out of eleven wineries established by 1946) came to produce almost all Michigan wine: La Salle (LaSalle) Wine and Champagne Company which was established in Windsor, Ontario and moved to Farmington, Michigan, the Bronte Champagne and Wine Company of Hartford, Michigan Wineries (now Warner Vineyards) of Paw Paw, and St. Julian Winery, which was also established in Windsor, Ontario on the Canadian shore across from Detroit during Prohibition and moved to Paw Paw after repeal.

Michigan law in the mid-20th century placed a tax of 4 cents a gallon on Michigan wine while other wine was taxed at 50 cents a gallon to promote the local industry. Michigan wine of that era was, primarily, fermented to dryness, giving about 9% alcohol, and then fortified with California brandy to 16% alcohol. State laws considered this natural wine and allowed it to be sold in grocery and drug stores while fortified wines from out-of-state at 18-20% could only be sold from state liquor stores.

Vinifera

The wineries of Michigan specialized in sweet wine and fruit wine well into the 1970s. With the growth in demand, starting in the latter half of the 20th century, for locally-grown and locally-labeled U.S. fine wines, several existing Michigan makers of sweet wine experimented with upgrading their production, and new vintners entered the scene. Tabor Hill Winery in southwest Michigan, opened in 1971 as the first Michigan winery specializing in vinifera wines. Only a few years later in 1974, Chateau Grand Traverse opened in the Traverse Bay region of Northern Michigan. A slow growth in the number of wineries and continued trial of different vinifera varieties continued well into the 2000s.

Ice Wine

The climate of Greater Traverse City allows for the production of ice wine, which requires an early hard freeze so the fruit still on the vine can be harvested while frozen. A small number of wineries produce this style; although it is not possible every year. In 2002, for example, 6 Michigan wineries produced over 13,000 half-bottles of ice wine, a record at that time.

Fruit Wine

Michigan may be the foremost U.S. state in the production of diverse varieties of bottled, fermented fruit wine. Fruit wine has a long and honorable history in Europe, especially in regions such as Poland and the Baltic states where grapes do not easily grow. In Michigan, apple wine and cherry wine are produced in the highest volume, but almost any fruit juice can be fermented with novel results. Michigan is a North American leader in the production of fortified fruit wines and eau-de-vie (fruit brandy).

State Support

The wine industry in Michigan is supported by an agricultural research program at Michigan State University which began experimental vineyards around the state in 1970 and established a winery on campus in 1972. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council is a state agency established in 1985 to promote and support Michigan wineries.

Future Prospects

A warming trend in the climate of the Great Lakes region could increase Michigan vinifera productivity and lead to a higher profile for Michigan wines. However, Michigan vineyards, particularly vinifera vineyards, remain vulnerable to cold snaps and other weather catastrophes, such as the killing frost of March 2003. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council has set a goal of 10,000 acres (40 km²) of wine grape production and 3 million cases of Michigan-produced wines annually by 2024, about 10 times current production.

Wikipedia :: Michigan Wine

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