Welcome to Episode 25, the halfway point of our first season! It is time that we, as Sufjan Stevens has done before us, say yes to Michigan. (And mispronounce the name of the state repeatedly, a deliberate homage in this podcast to episode 99 of “Welcome to Night Vale.”)
Michigan’s wine story is one of great success, I think largely due to support from the state itself–versus other states that are still lurking at the edge of the Prohibition Era. The state of Michigan currently has over 140 wineries, along with 5 unique trails for regions within the state, as well as a well-made website devoted to viticulture within the state–something many states lack. Each of these five wine trails largely follows the landscape of Michigan’s five AVA’s: the Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, and my personal favorite (for the name), Tip of the Mitt AVA.
The history of Michigan wine before Prohibition is spotty at best, but there does seem to have been an industry present there prior to that black mark upon America’s viticultural history. Unlike many other states, however, wide plantings of Concord and other native grape varietals which were commonly used for juices allowed the state of Michigan to bounce back very quickly, with eleven wineries existing by the time of 1946. Traditionally, these were sweet wines, and even today, many growers switch back and forth between the production of sweet wine and grape juices with varietals such as Catawba, Concord, and Niagara–only about 14% of Michigan’s grapes are planted exclusively for wine production. Michigan also produces many fruit wines, with the Traverse City area being especially known for Cherry wine.
The Michigan viticultural landscape began to change in the 1970’s, with Tabor Hill Winery (located in Southwest Michigan) opening in 1971 as the first regional winery focusing on wines made from vinifera varietals. A few years later in 1974, Chateau Grand Traverse opened, with a similar operation in mind. Today, a host of different varietals, vinifera, hybrid, and indigenous varietals are grown in Michigan, with new varietals being tested on a consistent and regular basis; grapes like La Crecent, Frontenac, and other hybrid strains coming out of the University of Minnesota lab. There are also fears that Global warming may affect some of these AVAs, as a warming climate may interfere with Lake Michigan, which is what makes most of these growing regions possible.
The wine in our first Michigan episode is the Cherry Riesling Wine, from Traverse Bay Winery, a subsidiary label from Chateau Grand Traverse. The wine is a blend of 25% Cherry wine and 75% Riesling; the Riesling is sourced from the estate vineyard, located in the Old Mission Peninsula AVA. My friend Aly Pocock bought this bottle for the podcast earlier this year while she visited family in the state. I’m especially pleased she chose this bottle as I feel it is a good introduction to the Traverse City area, based on what I’ve heard from visitors to Arizona from this region. We also introduce a fabulous concept called the Wine Spritzer in this episode, so stay tuned and enjoy.