A glass of red wine is good for your heart — and it’s also good for the economy. â€¨ With April finishing off as Michigan Wine Month and May bringing the start of the summer travel season, including jaunts to northern Michigan wineries, let’s take a look at the variety of delicious, soothing wines made right here at home.
A few years ago I interviewed Rob Manigold, a winemaker from Old Mission Peninsula, about what makes Michigan wines so good. He says it’s the micro-climate and lake-effect temps that provide a perfect grape-growing experience and the fraternity of winemakers who truly work together to give this industry cohesion and consistency. Â Manigold’s family has been growing fruit on Old Mission Peninsula for four generations. “When somebody comes up from Detroit or Chicago, they always go to the sand dunes in Leelenau County and they always go to the end of Old Mission Peninsula,” says Manigold.
Old Mission Peninsula is an 18-mile-long finger of land surrounded by the crystal-cold waters of Lake Michigan. At its widest, it’s three miles across, with watershed views at every point and a unique that encourages fruit-growing longer than most neighboring areas. Â Today, it is home to seven wineries, four inns, five restaurants, and eight farmers markets or orchards. It is also one of many destinations in the state of Michigan featuring vibrant wineries. Â The winemakers of Old Mission Peninsula, and of Michigan in general, truly work together, since they know “we will all be judged by the worst bottle of wine that anyone tastes from us,” says Mark Johnson, winemaker and a co-owner of Chateau Chantal, a winery, bed-and-breakfast and restaurant that opened in 1993. Â Old Mission winemakers meet monthly and share equipment, supplies and knowledge. Together, they produce 90,000 cases of wine a year from 100-percent vitis venifera grapes.
Michigan as a state generates nearly $790 million of economic value every year from the production of wine, grapes and grape juice products. This includes 14,600 acres of vineyards, and 71 commercial wineries — making Michigan the fourth largest grape-growing state in the country. The number of vineyard acres has increased more than 60% in the last decade alone!â€¨ The wine industry contributes $300 million annually to Michigan’s economy.Â But this is not a new story.
The earliest evidence of winemaking in Michigan took place in 1679 among French explorers. The first vineyard was planted 20 years later at Fort Ponchartrain.â€¨ The longest-running modern wineries are St. Julian Wine Company and Warner Vineyards. Every year, destination wineries like Black Star Farms, beckon travelers with their vibrant vintages and beautiful accommodations — making wine-drinking a full-body experience. Â More than 50 grape varieties are grown here — most within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. That’s because the “lake effect” protects vines with snow in winter and extends the growing season by a good four weeks.â€¨ Michigan wines are increasingly receiving honors at national and international competitions.
Want a taste of Michigan wines? Try these award-winners.
White Wine – Brys Estate Gewurztraminerâ€¨â€¨This Michigan wine earned 6 awards in 2008 competitions and has become the standard that best represents the Brys Estate winery, which is relatively new to Michigan. You can purchase a bottle of this Michigan wine at the Traverse City winery – http://www.brysestate.com/â€¨â€¨Red Wine – Tabor Hill Lake Michigan Shore Merlotâ€¨â€¨Tabor Hill Merlot earned double gold at the Great Lakes Great Wine Competition and became an instant favorite of local wine connoisseurs. Tabor Hill winery opened in 1968 and uses 27 varieties of grapes. http://www.taborhill.com/
Specialty Wine — FennValleyClassicPort
This wine earned several awards, including a gold medal at the Tasters Guild International Wine Judging. Fenn Valley Winery and Cellar is located along the southern shores of Lake Michigan. http://www.fennvalley.com/index.htmlâ€¨â€¨Dessert Wine – St. Julian Solera Cream Sherry â€¨â€¨This dessert wine earned 11 awards in 2008. It’s best paired with a chocolate dessert.
If you love great wine, good food, music and community, please check out The Market Square Wine Tasting on Friday May 14th 6-9 pm and support “The Haven Garden Project” of Pontiac! This amazing event will be held at Goldner Walsh Nursery in Pontiac! Â Purchase tickets at any Market Square Store or on line at www.neptix.com