Did you know that Michigan is the fourth largest grape-growing state and the seventh leading wine-producing state in the United States? The state has a long history with this crop.
Wild grapes were reported to be growing in Michigan as far back as the late 17th century. These grapes were first used to make wine before massive plantings of widely available varietals, such as Concord, Delaware, and Norton’s Virginia, were undertaken.
Joseph M. Sterling established Michigan’s first winery, the Pointe Aux Peaux Wine Company, in Monroe County in 1868. Thereafter, vineyards were planted throughout the state, both for wine and fruit juice. A leading grape of the time was Concord, mostly grown in the southwest. This became a key crop when Prohibition took effect in 1920, as wineries that were able to survive sold their grapes to supply Welch’s grape juice company. Michigan was the first state to vote to repeal Prohibition in 1933.
Once it was legal to make wine again, the wine industry continued to grow and Michigan reclaimed its position among other wine-producing states in America. In the late 1940s, the local industry gained a boost through tax policy: Michigan wines made with 75 percent Michigan-grown grapes were taxed at only four cents per gallon while wines from other places were taxed at 50 cents per gallon.
Interestingly enough, while Monroe County, home to Michigan’s first winery, sits on the southeastern shore of Michigan near Lake Erie, today nearly all the wine produced in the state comes from within 25 miles of Lake Michigan on the western side of the state. This is due largely to plantings of European vitis vinifera varietals in the 1960s in the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula. This prime growing region in the northwestern part of the state produces what is known as the “lake effect.” Lake Michigan acts as a moderating influence for surrounding temperatures, due to the fact that water changes temperature at a much slower rate than air and maintains it (whether warm or cool) for a longer period of time. This helps prevent roots from freezing and allows the grapes to remain on the vine longer. Riesling is the most planted wine grape in Michigan, with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc also having a significant presence.
The last two decades have seen rapid expansion of the Michigan wine industry. Today Michigan contains five American Viticultural Areas and over 160 wineries. Two of these AVAs, Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula, sit along the 45th parallel. This is the same latitude as the renowned wine regions in Willamette Valley in Oregon, Piedmont in Italy, and Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. World class wine can also be found in abundance in the Tip of the Mitt, Fennville, and Lake Michigan Shore AVAs.
With its rich history, breathtaking locales, and delicious wines, Michigan should be a destination for all Oenophiles.