Fall has finally arrived and that means it’s time for Michigan’s wineries to harvest their grapes to make this year’s vintages! We thought it would be fun to wrap up some fun facts about Michigan Wine that you may not have known! We’re sure that these will make you thirsty and ready to book your next TC Brew Bus Wine Tour!
Michigan has 13,700 acres of vineyards making Michigan the fourth largest grape-growing state.
- Most of this acreage is devoted to juice grapes such as Concord and Niagara.
- About 3,050 acres are devoted to wine grapes, consistently ranking Michigan in the top ten in wine grape production in the nation.
- Michigan’s 131 commercial wineries bottle more than 2.4 million gallons of wine annually, making Michigan fifth in wine production. The vast majority of production is from Michigan-grown grapes. (1)
- Vinifera varieties – these are the classic European varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling (the most widely planted white), Pinot Noir (the most widely planted red), Pinot Grigio/Gris and Cabernet Franc; about 70% of Michigan’s wine grapes are vinifera. Since 1997, 90% of the new plantings in Michigan have been vinifera varieties.
- Hybrid varieties (sometimes called French/American hybrids) – these are botanical crosses between vinifera varieties and grapes native to North America. Typical names are Vidal, Chambourcin, Marechal Foch and Vignoles; about 27% of Michigan’s wine grapes are hybrids.
- Native varieties – actually close relatives of true native varieties. Typical names are Concord and Niagara. About 3% of Michigan’s wine is made from these varieties. (2)
Michigan has five federally approved viticultural areas (AVAs). In the northwest part of the state, near Traverse City, lie the Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula. About 55% of Michigan’s wine grapes grow here. In the southwest part of the state lie the Lake Michigan Shore and Fennville appellations, where 40% of Michigan’s wine grapes are grown. The newest AVA is Tip of the Mitt, which encompasses the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula. (3)
Most of Michigan’s quality wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. Here, the “lake effect” protects the vines with snow in winter, retards bud break in spring helping avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks. (4)
Wineries are popular tourist destinations, attracting more than 2 million visitors annually. (5)
- Michigan is ideally suited for ice wine production. Most other U.S. states cannot produce this decadent libation – it just doesn’t get cold enough. There are strict rules governing the harvesting, handling, and labeling of ice wine, not just in Michigan, but internationally.
- Ice wine is made from grapes that have been partially frozen on the vine. There are “ice-style” wines that are made from grapes that are harvested then frozen. These cannot be labeled as “ice wine.” Leaving grapes on the vine for ice wine is risky. The longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more the sugar is concentrated. More sugar means more tasty morsels for birds, raccoons, and other critters. Growers often cover the vines with netting to help reduce the damage.
- The grapes can’t be allowed to thaw, so harvest must happen quickly, often with very short notice. It’s not uncommon to harvest grapes for ice wine in the middle of the night. And it’s done by hand. The grapes must be pressed while still frozen, yielding mere drops of concentrated ultra-sweet elixir.
- The grapes can’t be allowed to thaw, so harvest must happen quickly, often with very short notice. It’s not uncommon to harvest grapes for ice wine in the middle of the night. And it’s done by hand. The grapes must be pressed while still frozen, yielding mere drops of concentrated ultra-sweet elixir. (6)