[glass]Driving on any highway in Michigan, it seems that there are as many \”Winery in two miles\” and \”Wine tasting this way!\” signs as there are signs for rest stops. Having grown up with the idea that most wines come from Europe or California, I find it particularly surprising. I mean, Michigan? A wine state? But all those highway signs have to mean something – and from what I\’ve found, Michigan wines are kind of a big deal (or are getting to be, at least).
Wine is certainly not a new phenomenon – the first evidence of wine production dates back to 5000 B.C. Most of the well-known wines today come from Europe. The winegrowing regions in France, the largest wine exporter in the world, lie along the 45N parallel, and the combination of weather and fertile soil makes the region perfect for growing wine grapes. However, Michigan has neither the heritage nor the experience French, Chilean or even Californian wine makers have. What Michigan does have is the right conditions and a long history of agricultural experience in fruits and vegetables. Like France, Michigan lies along the 45N parallel line, which combined with lake effect weather from Lake Michigan, provides a good microclimate for growing wine grapes.
Part of what makes a wine is the climate in which the grapes are grown. Each location offers its own subtle contribution to the wine. Cello teacher at Interlochen Arts Academy and wine enthusiast Crispin Campbell feels Michigan wines aren\’t quite as good as Napa Valley wines, or wines from other regions, though he recognizes there are some quality wines coming out of Michigan. Campbell grew up in Sonoma County, California, a prime area for winemaking.
\”There\’s potential,\” Campbell said. \”People need to learn which grapes respond best in this climate and soil. It\’s a very new wine industry. In California, there\’s been a wine industry for 150 years; in Michigan only about 30 years. The most promising is sparkling wine and Cabernet Franc (a dry red) from the Leelanau Peninsula.\”
Michiganders have been making wine since the repeal of prohibition, but only since the 1970s has it become a serious industry. Before the \’70s, Michigan wines were known to be very fruity and sweet, mainly because the bulk of wine production at the time was in fortified fruit wines, especially apple and cherry wines, and thus were not taken seriously among wine aficionados.
MSU helped turn that image around with an agricultural research program that started an experimental vineyard in 1970 and established a winery on campus in 1972. In addition, a certificate-granting program in viticulture and enology through the Department of Horticulture was instituted in 1999 at MSU, which ended in 2005. According to Ron Perry, Chairperson of the Department of Horticulture, classes in viticulture or wine appreciation may be reintroduced due to renewed interest in the subject. Wine tasting is currently part of the beverage management curriculum in the School of Hospitality Business.
\”Beverages have been used for demonstration purposes from the very beginning,\” professor Carl Borchgrevink, said in an e-mail interview. Borchgrevink teaches HB 411, Hospitality Beverages, and HB 490, Introduction to Wine. \”The purpose behind this is so that the students get a real sense of the sensory and gustatory qualities of a beverage and can consider beverage choices as they relate to foods and menu choices/development. Imagine trying to describe what \’butter\’ tastes like to you. The same difficulty surfaces in describing a Chardonnay or perhaps an India Pale Ale, if you have not tasted them before.\”
Like the beginnings of any new enterprise, Michigan\’s wine industry has experienced its ups and downs. \”A lot of learning has gone on,\” David Miller, vice president of Winemaking and Viticulture at St. Julian Winery, said. Miller is a graduate of MSU and studied viticulture. \”Some not so great wines have been put out. But I think most of that is behind us now. Rieslings have been gaining a lot of recognition and Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are showing pretty well in the state as well. It\’s a matter of spreading the word. All of the regions have gone through these phases.\”[behind]
Miller predicts that Michigan wines are on the upswing, and there is considerable support for that idea. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council expects to find as much as a 20 percent increase in vineyard acreage in the state and notes that sales of Michigan-made wines have continued to increase.
\”We see [winemaking] as a good thing,\” journalism senior, and Campbell\’s wife, Carol Navarro said. \”It\’s distressing to see land going to condos and commercial developments. Wineries can help preserve the green space.\”
Wine and wine tourism in Michigan is estimated to be a $100 million industry, and some of that interest comes from people who are already familiar with wine culture.
[yum]\”I grew up in California wine country, and the culture has always been around me. I thought it would be fun and interesting to get involved,\” advertising senior Shannon Rolley said. Rolley is interning as director of the Old Town Lansing Festival of the Sun, Lansing\’s premier wine and beer tasting festival. The wines and beers featured in the tasting are primarily from Michigan.
\”Local is the new organic,\” Miller said. \”People find it exciting that we\’ve got a happening wine industry in Michigan – you don\’t have to go out to California or Chile to taste wine. We\’ve got some really exciting things going on. We see lots of young folks attending dinners and tastings and wanting to get involved. Young folks are much, much better educated than I was when I was young.\”
Miller isn\’t the only one noticing younger peoples\’ interest in wine tasting. \”We\’ve seen younger crowds for the past couple of years – lots of bachelorette parties,\” said Jaclyn Eikey, the tasting room manager at the Ciccone Winery in Suttons Bay. \”It\’s definitely a big trend, and very much the new thing to come and do. We try to do new and fun things to cater to the younger crowds. People like the opportunity to go around and taste and find out what they like.\”
Some students feel wine drinking is more sophisticated than the average keg party, and makes them feel a bit more mature. \”My roommates and I have a wine and cheese party every year and dress up,\” Rolley said. \”I feel like college students think wine is a step above, and that there\’s a little bit of class in drinking wine.\”
Human biology junior Kyle VanDonkelaar enjoys wine with his family, and has developed a liking for Napa Valley wines and Michigan wines in particular. \”Michigan wine is completely different from any other wine I\’ve ever had. I\’ve never tried a wine from Michigan I didn\’t like. There\’s a huge variety,\” VanDonkelaar said. \”If you\’re going to spend time picking out a bottle of wine, you\’re not going to gulp it down. A lot of times when drinking wine, you end up talking about the wine – with beer you don\’t really end up talking about what you\’re drinking. It\’s a completely different atmosphere.\”
Where to Find Wines: Local
Old Town Lansing Festival of the Sun will take place June 23, and in addition to wine and beer tasting, will feature live music, dancing and food.
But if you\’re looking for wine on a more regular basis, Navarro recommends Goodrich\’s Shop-Rite as a great place to look for wines. She and her husband frequent the store, which features a large selection of fine wines, often from smaller producers. \”The staff at Goodrich\’s really knows the wine,\” Navarro said. \”There\’s something for everybody there.\” Goodrich\’s Shop-Rite is located at 290 Trowbridge Road in East Lansing.
Uncle John\’s Cider Mill and Fruit House Winery is also a popular place to go. With the ciders and activities, students under 21 can enjoy the Uncle John\’s experience as well as those legally able to taste the wines. In addition to cider, Uncle John\’s specializes in several varieties of fruit wines, but also offers more traditional Pinot Gris and Riesling. Activities and events are offered year-round, including Mother\’s Day arts and crafts on May 12 and 13 and Father\’s Day events June 16-17. The cider mill and winery are located directly off US 127 north of St. Johns, about a half hour from East Lansing.
Dusty\’s Cellar is also a local establishment with a passion for food and wine. Located in Okemos, Dusty\’s Cellar features a nationally recognized wine bar, and hosts special monthly wine tasting events in addition to wine tasting every Saturday. The wine collection houses both international and American wines and stays close to its roots with a large selection of Michigan wines. Dusty\’s Cellar is located at 1839 Grand River Ave., past Marsh Rd.
Wineries Around Michigan
St. Julian Winery
Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday, noon – 6 p.m.
Location: 716 South Kalamazoo St., Paw Paw, Mich. 49079
Contact: 269-657-5568
St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw is Michigan\’s oldest and largest winery, and has won awards for its Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay in national competition. Five tasting rooms are open in the state: Paw Paw, Frankenmuth, Parma, Dundee, and Union Pier. This summer, St. Julian Winery has three planned events. The Frankenmuth tasting room will host a Winemaker\’s Dinner on May 5, and the Paw Paw Days will be July 21 and 22. Also, St. Julian will have a tent at the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival in Bridgman on June 23.
Ciccone Winery
Hours of Operation: April, May: Thursday – Sunday, noon – 5 p.m.; June – October: Daily, noon – 6 p.m.
Location: 10343 East Hilltop Road, Suttons Bay, Mich. 49682
Contact: 231-271-5553
Ciccone Winery is located on Leelanau Peninsula with a view of West Grand Traverse Bay. Unlike many vineyards, all of the harvest and winemaking is done by hand to preserve the natural balance and delicacy of the grapes. The Ciccone Winery is primarily known for their drier wines, particularly their traditional wine whites, but has also come to notoriety because the founder of the winery, Tony Ciccone, is Madonna\’s father. A limited edition Madonna wine collection was produced in 2005, which features labels from her \”Confessions\” tour and CD. Proceeds from the sale of Madonna wines go to the Metropolitan Hospital Foundation in Grand Rapids.
Round Barn Winery
Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday, noon – 6 p.m.
Location: Winery, Distillery & Brewery: 10983 Hills Road, Baroda, Michigan 49101/ Union Pier Tasting Room: 9185 Union Pier Road, Union Pier, Michigan 49129
Contact: Winery: 800-716-WINE, Union Pier Tasting Room: 269-469-6885
Round Barn Winery, located in Baronda, Mich., features a wide variety of wines and have activities in Southwest Michigan year-round. The winery also has a tasting room in Union Pier with the Wine Cellar Caf, where Round Barn wines are paired with gourmet foods. Summer events include a tent at the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival on June 23, a barbeque contest on July 1, and a Harvest Party on August 25 and 26.
So now that you know where to go, what\’s stopping you? \”Wine is more than consuming alcohol. It\’s about seeing where [the conversation] takes you,\” Navarro said. \”You aren\’t sipping unconsciously and the level of consumption goes down. With a group of friends you can end up talking about the region or the estate where the wine was made – you end up talking about geography. [My husband and I] find ourselves saying that if more people got into the art of wine, maybe there wouldn\’t be as many wars.\”

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