Michigan Wine Overview

The wine industry in Michigan has always been high profile within the state. Now, that spotlight extends nationally, as Michigan is well known for producing outstanding wines, grown right here in a state with some of the most unique climate conditions in the United States.

Michigan had a bustling wine industry before Prohibition took hold, and it quickly blossomed from the 1930s through the 1960s. Longtime wineries in the state such as St. Julien became synonymous with Michigan wine among local residents and travelers from other states alike. In fact, the large St. Julien sign on Interstate 94 just over Michigan’s border from Indiana announces the unofficial entrance to Michigan wine country.

Farther north in the state, adjacent to Traverse City, are the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, two long strips of land that jut out into Grand Traverse Bay north from Traverse City. This area is one of Michigan’s most popular destinations for visitors. In addition to several world class wineries, there are attractions that appeal to everyone. Driving around either peninsula will showcase forests, fruit orchards, vineyards, rolling hills and bayside scenery.

Although Michigan wine is strongly associated with Rieslings, a diverse variety of wine is produced in the state. Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are just a few. The state is one of the few in the Midwest successfully growing traditional European grapes along with French-American hybrids. Grapes native to the United States also thrive here, like Catawba, Concord and Niagara.

Michigan had a bustling wine industry before Prohibition took hold, and quickly began to blossom again from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Michigan is also home to three of the oldest American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the U.S. The Fennville AVA is located in western Michigan, south of Holland, near the resort town of Saugatuck. Established in 1981, it’s the third oldest AVA in the United States. Fenn Valley Vineyards is the founding winery located within the boundaries of the AVA. The Leelanau Peninsula AVA was established in 1982. Lake Michigan Shore AVA, established in 1983, is Michigan’s largest. Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan’s smallest in terms of total acreage, was established in 1987.

The state is near the 45th Parallel, the same latitude as Bordeaux and Alsace, although it’s much colder here in Michigan. The cooling effects of Lake Michigan contribute to the state being one of the best places to grow grapes, particularly Riesling grapes. There are about 90 wineries in Michigan now, many with unique specialty wines hard to find anywhere else. Further, the state is well known for producing artisanal hard ciders, sparkling wines and brandy.

Michigan is home to three of the oldest American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the U.S.

Michigan Wine Trails

Michigan is another state that has been at the forefront of establishing wine trails. There are four dedicated wine trails in the state, plus one hybrid trail that also includes two breweries.

Two of the trails are exceedingly popular, although the overall popularity of their wine-producing areas exceed the trails themselves. Southwestern Michigan, whose lakeside towns are less than two hours from Chicago, has been a popular visitor location for more than a century. The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail adds yet another appealing attraction to the area.

The next two trails are located adjacent to Traverse City, another highly popular area that’s as well known for its blossoming culinary scene as its wineries. Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail and Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail are both named after the peninsulas that jut out into Grand Traverse Bay. Arguably, some of Michigan’s best wineries are located along these two trails. Traverse City has molded itself into a four-season destination, so any time is a great time to visit the area’s wineries.

On the other side of the state, southeast Michigan wineries are grouped together into the Pioneer Wine Trail, within an hour’s drive from Detroit and southern Ontario. Farther north on the eastern side of the state is a hybrid trail, the Sunrise Side Wine and Hops Trail, which is comprised of five wineries, two brewpubs and several other notable attractions.

Michigan does an excellent job promoting their wineries and wine trails. They offer a free, annual publication, Michigan Wine Country, which lists all of the state’s wineries and features prominent wine related events in the state.

Travelogue: Michigan Wine: Harbor Country and New Buffalo

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