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Michigan Wine: A Short History

Having the longest freshwater shoreline in the US, it’s no surprise that Michigan enjoys a rich history in producing some of the most sought-after wines this side of the Pacific. With over 130 wineries that are sprawled across the state, Michigan is the go-to place for wine enthusiasts and aficionados. Here, we are going to take a quick look at the rich and impressive history of the wineries in Michigan.

Home of Sweet Wines

Traditionally, Michigan has been the home of sweet wines. These wines are produced by a variety of grapes that are native to North America such as, Niagara, Concord, and Catawba, and also from hybrid grape varieties by crossing the native species of grapes with vinifera grapes that are native to the Mediterranean, Central Europe, and Southwest Asia.

Michigan wineries took off after the repeal of the prohibition, when plantings of Concord were introduced by the Welch Grape Juice Company. By 1946, four wineries in Michigan were producing up to 95% of all the wine that came from the state. These large wineries were La Salle Wine and Champagne Company, Bronte Champagne and Wines Company, Tabor Hill Winery, and St. Julian Winery.

While the fortified wine from outside of Michigan contained alcohol content of up to 20%, Michigan wine that was fermented to dryness and fortified with California brandy give it a low alcohol content of just 16%. This allowed the wine to be sold in grocery stores and drug stores.

The popularity of sweet and fruit wines in Michigan grew well into the 70s, when many local labels began experimenting with wine flavors and production techniques. During this time, new vintners entered the scene and specialized in their own unique versions of vinifera wines, including several hybrid varieties.

Five American Viticutural Areas (AVAs)

Michigan is home to five AVAs, which include The Tip of the Mitt, Old Mission Peninsula, Leelanau Peninsula, Fennville, and Lake Michigan Shore. These five regions are all in close proximity to Lake Michigan, where almost all of Michigan’s wine comes from. This is also the area that experiences what has been referred to as the “lake effect” and gives Michigan wines that unique flavorful taste.

Types of Grapes

Contrary to popular belief, most of the grapes that are grown in Michigan are for “table use.” In other words, the grapes are used for making grape juice. Out of the 100,000 tons of grapes that are produced in the state of Michigan, only 4,600 tons are used for actually making wine.

That being said, vinifera grapes production is increasing in Michigan along with hybrid varieties. There are also some European grapes that are grown in Michigan which include the likes of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah amongst others.

The state of Michigan is known for its ice wine and fruit wine, which are the two most popular types of wines that are produced in Michigan. Wineries here also produce spice wine and cherry wine, and are considered to be the leaders of eau-de-vie or fruit brandy.

You can get a taste of what Michigan wineries have to offer by booking a tour with Coastal Tours.

Cheers & don't drink and drive,

Coastal Tours



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