Michigan’s Growing Wine Industry Struggles to Keep Pace With Demand

We’re big fans of Michigan-made anything here at A Healthier Michigan, and that holds doubly true for the state’s burgeoning wine industry, which has grown from 17th century vineyards planted by French explorers along the Detroit River to the 13th-largest wine producing state in the U.S. with more than 80 commercial wineries.

Michigan has seen its wine-grape acreage increase more than 500 percent since 1973, with demand for Michigan wines outpacing new acreage planted by a 2-to-1 ratio, according to the most recent data (PDF) compiled by the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. Our wineries are regularly winning awards and accolades in international competitions and the wine press. And simply put, it’s fun to drink and discover Michigan wines.

So in honor of Michigan Wine Month, I spoke with Linda Jones, the council’s executive director, about what’s going on in the state’s wine industry.

A Healthier Michigan: How valuable is Michigan’s winemaking industry economically?

Jones: In 2005 the industry contributed $300 million to the state’s economy and it has continued to grow about 10 percent per year since then.

What’s happening these days in the industry? What’s new?

Linda Jones

New wineries are opening every year. Usually about six to eight per year over the past eight years.

What’s the single biggest misconception you get from people about wine made in Michigan? Or what’s the biggest thing that surprises people about Michigan wine?

The biggest surprise for people is that we make a wide range of styles of wines (from bone dry to very sweet) from a large number of grape varieties (over 50 different varieties of wine grapes are grown in Michigan) and that our wine industry is expanding throughout the state to areas like Jackson, Port Huron, the Thumb, Cheboygen, Alpena, the U.P., Petoskey, Benzie County and Manistee, contributing significantly to the tourism and agriculture economies of these communities.

People are also often surprised to learn about the prestigious awards that many of our wines receive in international wine competitions.

What kind of wine grapes do best here and why?

We are a cool-climate wine region so the varieties that do well in northern France and Germany perform well here also. These regions are at a similar latitude to Michigan (the 45th parallel — halfway between the equator and the North Pole).

Any promising red wines being grown in Michigan?

Pinot noir is a quality producer in Michigan although it is very tricky to grow. Cabernet franc is also very solid and some little known hybrid varieties such as chambourcin.

What’s the status currently on the whole direct-shipment issue here in Michigan? Can residents here have wine shipped to them?

Michigan adult (over 21) residents can have wine shipped to them if the winery has obtained a direct shipping permit from the state of Michigan. Over 500 U.S. wineries have obtained this permit, including most Michigan wineries.

Any other big issues you’re following right now in Lansing or Washington D.C.?

Regulation of the industry continues to be a complex issue, especially for new wineries. Recently in Michigan, the laws were changed that allow wineries to charge for samples. Retailers are also now allowed to conduct wine sampling in-store, with the proper permits. These changes in regulations do assist Michigan wineries in becoming profitable and getting increased market access for consumers to try their products.

How big do you think this industry can be in Michigan? Is it maxed out on growth?

There is considerable room for growth of the industry, in all regions.

Why should people drink Michigan wine or care about the industry ?

Purchasing a wine from grapes grown in Michigan makes a greater contribution to the Michigan economy than purchasing a wine that has traveled halfway across the world to get here. The “Pure Michigan”  experiences that we have while visiting Michigan wineries create lifelong memories and tremendous ambassadors for the industry. The winemakers of Michigan are dedicated, hardworking people who deserve our support for their endeavors.

Visit michiganwines.com to order a copy of the 2011 edition of Michigan Wine Country magazine and learn about the Vintage Michigan loyalty program that provides members with discounts at many wineries, retailers and restaurants around the state.

Photo by lpwines.

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