After years of relative obscurity, the wines and winemakers of Michigan are finally beginning to see some national recognition perhaps in response to the immense jump in quality these wines have recently made.
With 13,500 acres of vineyards, Michigan is the nation’s fourth largest grape-growing state. The majority of this acreage is devoted to growing vinifera grapes, the classic European varietals like Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio/Gris and Cabernet Franc. The state has four federally approved viticultural areas (AVAs): the Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula in the northwest part of the state, and the Lake Michigan Shore and Fennville appellations in the southwest.
Most of Michigan’s 43 vineyards exist within 25 miles of Lake Michigan or the West Grand Traverse Bay which act as solar blankets, providing an extended period of steady temperatures and a long, stable growing season. Michigan is a cool climate grape growing region which generally produces a crisp, balanced acidity wine. Riesling, a popular white-wine grape most often associated with Germany, is one of the most successful grapes and resulting wines produced in Michigan, and are frequent international award-winners. Red-wine grapes can be testy about growing in this type of climate, but many Michigan winemakers find success with red varietals, particularly Pinot Noir.
Visiting these wineries is easier than ever due to the formation of the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail (6 wineries) and the Southwestern Wine Trail (10 wineries). These trails were formed as a joint effort among the wineries to promote their region as a cohesive destination, much like you’d see in larger wine countries like Napa Valley. Wine lovers reluctant to make the drive for just one or two wineries are now compelled to spend an entire weekend.
To sample the fine wines of Michigan even closer to home, buy a ticket for the DWO’s June 28 Wine Down Wednesday at Atwater Block Brewery in Detroit where we will be tasting a wide selection of Michigan’s best wines. Our featured wine presentation will be led by Cornel Olivier, the South African-born winemaker of Michigan’s newest winery, Brys Estates. This 20-acre former cherry orchard in Traverse City has been transformed into a fully estate-bottled vineyard, meaning that 100% of the wine being produced is from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery. Other Michigan winemakers will also be on hand to talk about the great wines coming out of our state. (This event was rescheduled due to the International Freedom Festival Fireworks on June 29.)