There is a holiday for just about anything, but this one is well deserved – especially these days. May is MICHIGAN Wine Month…a time to pop a cork and pour a glass of locally made wine from one of the state’s nearly 150 wineries.
According to The History of Michigan Wines: 150 Years of Winemaking along the Great Lakes (American Palate – July 1, 2010) by Sharon Kegerreis and Lorri Hathaway with the foreward by the late, great David Braganini of St. Julian Winery, Michigan’s vibrant wine industry was ignited by Joseph Sterling who cultivated vineyards along the shores of Lake Erie in the 1800s.
St. Julian is recognized as the longest-operating winery in the state, originating in Windsor, Canada in 1921 during Prohibition when Mariano Meconi began the winery at the age of 26 years. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Meconi moved the business across the river to Detroit before finally settling in Paw Paw in 1936 where operations remain today (along with tasting rooms around the state). The state’s second oldest winery, Warner Vineyards, was founded in 1938 and is located a stone’s throw from St. Julian.
The Paw Paw area isn’t far from the Lake Michigan Shore AVA (American Viticultural Area), the largest of five federally-recognized such areas in Michigan:
- Fennville AVA (Established in 1981) — 75,000 acres
- Leelanau Peninsula AVA (Established in 1982) — 75,000 acres
- Lake Michigan Shore AVA (Established in 1983, Amended in 1987) — 1,280,000 acres
- Old Mission Peninsula AVA (Established in 1987) — 19,200 acres
- Tip of the Mitt AVA – Petoskey Area (Established in 2016)
In most cases, these wine regions are tied to promotional wine regions – groups that work collectively to market tourism efforts regionally. These include:
- Traverse Wine Coast
- Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
- Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula
- Petoskey Wine Region
- Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail
- Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail
According to the Michigan Ag Council, grapes (for both juice and wine) are big part of the state’s overall $104 billion agricultural industry. Current data (2016) shows:
- Michigan utilized 93,400 tons of grapes for production of wine and juice;
- Michigan has 13,100 acres of vines, ranking #8 in the nation;
- 3,050 Michigan acres are devoted exclusively to wine grapes, ranking #8 in the nation;
- Michigan has more than 120 commercial wineries, producing more than 1.4 million gallons of wine annually (the Michigan Craft Beverage Council notes as of 2017, that is actually 2.75 million gallons);
- Michigan wineries make many varieties of wine, including red, white and specialty wine like ice wine, sparkling, fortified, fruit wine and brandies;
- Concord and Niagara grapes are grown primarily in the southwest part of the state and are used for juice production.
The economic impact of wine is $5.4 billion, and the industry provides over 47,000 jobs and pays out more than $1.8 billion in wages. Each year, 1.7 million people visit the tasting rooms spending more than $252.7 million on wine experiences and purchases.
Except this year, of course, when numbers sadly will be significantly lower.
The Pandemic of 2020 means tasting rooms around the state are closed for now and who knows what May will bring when (or if) the current “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order expires this month. Yet, despite the lockdown for on-site visits, Michigan wineries are finding innovating ways to connect with consumers. Many are offering “Virtual Tastings” or other entertaining or educational online programs.
Most wineries are also offering shipment of their wine throughout Michigan. And of course, you can still grab a bottle and even cans of your favorite wines at retail outlets like Meijer, Kroger and community bottle shops around the state. Even restaurants are offering bottles to go with their curbside food pick-up. Food retail shops, specifically those that sell things like cheese, are also jumping on board with online meet-ups that pair their selections with local wines.
Not quite the same as jumping in a bus with your friends and taking a day-long winery tour, but…it’s better than nothing in times like these wouldn’t you agree. And, someday…the tours will resume, the doors will open, the wine will flow and all will be right with the world. Until then, grab a bottle and a glass, put on a hat if you must and log online and join your fellow wine lovers online for a digital experience in celebration of Michigan Wine Month!