Michigan isn’t a state you often hear associated with posh wineries or vineyards, but the truth is, it is one of the better-known wine locations among wine connoisseurs everywhere. While you might first think of one of the Great Lakes, a mitten, or the cold, Michigan is known for something much more exciting than any of those things, which is, of course, wine. In fact, Michigan is the fourth largest grape-growing state in the United States. When you consider that wine-centric states like Vermont and California exist, that’s really saying something. But it isn’t just hearsay. Michigan is home to more than 13,000 acres dedicated to vineyards with more than 3,000 or those for wine grapes specifically. This puts Michigan in the top 10 states for wine production. Again, that’s a pretty huge deal when you consider all of the other states in the U.S. which dedicated acreage to wine production or vineyards in general.
Tourists might visit Michigan for any number of reasons, from the northern lakes during the summer to Michigan State for football season. But wineries alone attract more than 1.7 million tourists every year. So you’d better believe that Michigan wineries and vineyards work overtime to satisfy not only tourists but also locals who love the state wines. Speaking of which, there are roughly 16 wines that are specific to Michigan, including an emphasis on ice wines and fruit wines, which are delicacies in their own ways.
While there are tons of wines that can be found throughout Michigan wineries, there are three distinct types of grapes you can expect to see at the different vineyards. Vinifera grapes are common in white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Gris, and Cabernet Franc. Incidentally, around 70% of the wine grapes grown in Michigan are of the vinifera variety. Another popular wine grape variety in Michigan is the hybrid variety, which is also referred to as French/American hybrids. These are commonly a combination of vinifera varieties and grapes that are native to North America. They make up about 27% of Michigan’s wine grape varieties. The third variety of wine grapes commonly found in Michigan is the native variety. The names referred to from the native variety category are usually concord and Niagara, which make up just 3% of Michigan’s wines overall.
All Michigan wines certainly don’t taste the same, but whereas you might find more reds in states like Oregon, you might find yourself sipping on lighter and crisper whites in Michigan. This could have something to do with the cooler climate of Michigan, which breeds clean and crisp wines that vary from dry to quite sweet. But rest assured, whatever your preference, there is something in Michigan to satisfy your thirst.
Michigan Wine Regions
This Michigan wine region is located in Allegan County and borders both Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River. It also has a game reserve to the east and the Black River to the south, making it almost entirely surrounded by some kinds of bodies of water. This might account for the fact that soil is different here than the other wine regions in the state, making for optimum growing conditions for the Vitis vinifera and Vitis labrusca wine grapes.
Lake Michigan Shore
Lake Michigan Shore is actually not only the oldest wine grape growing region in the state but is also home to the most vineyards. This region is also where the majority of wine grape production occurs, which makes it a hot tourist spot, even if the other wine regions in Michigan have their own benefits for visitors. Because of the climate in this area, this region has a grape growing season that can be up to two weeks longer than that of other regions. This might be another reason why so many vineyards encompass this area.
This Michigan region includes the entire Leelanau county and sits on a peninsula, which makes it a pretty unique area of the state for vineyards and wine production. But this region is also highly susceptible to frost and frost can occur on almost every night of the year except for around 145 of them. While frost doesn’t necessarily kill wine grape plants or the branches, it can be harmful to young wine grape buds. Obviously, the frost here doesn’t totally disrupt the growing process, however.
Old Mission Peninsula
As another peninsula region, Old Mission Peninsula is surrounded on its sides by the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. While some might argue that cool waters would be harmful to vineyards during the colder months, this actually makes for control of the amount of frost that pops up on the plants throughout the year. Grapes for wines like Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Merlot typically do exceptionally well in this particular Michigan wine region.
Tip Of The Mitt
The location of this region is probably self-explanatory, but it is roughly 2,760 square miles and located in the northern lower peninsula of the state. The soils found in this are typically more naturally organic than the soil of other wine regions. They also offer better water retention, which can be beneficial when keeping the vineyards hydrated, but also requires that there isn’t oversaturation. But the surrounding waters make for some semblance of climate control which helps prevent too much frost in the colder months.
Michigan Wine Varieties
Michigan Rieslings are regarded as some of the best of its kind in the country. Michigan makes standard Riesling varieties as well as sparking and ice wine Rieslings, which only adds to its general appeal in Michigan wine country. Wineries in Michigan make dry, semi-dry, and sweet versions of the wine, so there is something for nearly every taste. And because Riesling grapes are commonly known for growing well in cooler climates, it makes sense that Michigan is home to them.
The Chardonnay grape is another one where a colder climate and perfect balance is crucial to its growth. Although this wine is commonly aged in oak, there are other wineries in Michigan that make it more traditionally. It makes for a smooth and dry wine that is best paired with a white meat dish.
When it comes to darker wines, however, Michigan is also well-versed in production of those that are lighter than reds but a little less pale than whites. The grape for Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio is usually found in colder areas of northern Italy, so it should come as no surprise that they are also grown in Michigan. Some wine aficionados consider these Pinot options to the best available in Michigan overall.
If your taste is more partial to a darker variety, then Michigan’s Cabernet Franc is probably your best bet. It is usually made by blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot in the Bordeaux style. Cabernet Franc, however, is much lighter in tone and can have aromas of raspberry and bell peppers, but also sometimes tobacco.
Merlot might not be the wine of Michigan, but when grown properly and planted in the right regions, it can be successfully harvested. However when compared to California’s Merlot variety, Michigan’s is a less soft version. Though some wine lovers might take to Michigan’s warm and layered flavor version of the darker wine.
In Michigan, Pinot Noir is commonly produced from an oak barrel. It is also used in sparkling wines in the state and comes from a widely planted wine grape. As a dry wine, Michigan’s Pinot Noir might hold layered flavors of plums with spicy dark cherries. It isn’t a fruit wine of course, but the Pinot Noir does have unmistakable underlying fruit flavors.
The wine grapes grown for Gewurztraminer wine are often hard to grow, but a lot of Michigan wineries and vineyards have proven that it can be done in this state. It is a very sweet wine with low acidity, which only adds to its already natural sweetness. Though it isn’t a fruit wine, Gewurztraminer can give off hints of fruits like apricot, cantelope, and peach.
If you prefer your Pinot to be lighter than a dark red, Pinot Blanc is a might whiter and light wine. Although it is produced in Michigan, which is known for a much cooler climate than most wine producing regions of the country, it can sometimes have tropical fruit undertones. It can also be dry without too much sweetness from the little sugar in the wine.
Riesling might be the most famous white wine variety pretty much anywhere, but in Michigan, there is also the Vignoles which can produce more than just a Riesling style of wine. It can also lend itself to sparkling wines, dry barrel fermented sweet wines, and more dry wines. I can also be a more late harvest wine.
The grapes for Chambourcin wine are grown in the southwest region of Michigan and require almost an additional month for the growing season. The resulting wine from these grapes is usually heavily concentrated and quite dark. It’s usually dry, but also fruity and full-bodied and has usually been aged in oak for quite a few months before it is enjoyed either with food or simply on its own.
Because Seyval Blanc wine blends so well with other wines, it isn’t always seen as its own variety. Still, it can have flavorful melon undertones. And in some cases, it might be used to blend with champagne to add a little something extra to both drinks.
Vidal Blanc wine is another Michigan hybrid, but in this case, it is white. It is sometimes blended with other more popular Michigan wine varieties and is almost always a sweet, rich, and full-bodied wine.
Michigan is no stranger to hybrid grapes and wines and the Chancellor is a hybrid red that grows in the southwest region of Michigan. The wine is usually red with cherry and dark raspberry flavors that are distinct but not overpowering.
The grapes that make Marechal Foch wine is common throughout Michigan. Although you can find plenty of wine varieties throughout the state, it might be most common to see this grape plant in different regions overall. The wine is typically red or light red and mild in flavor.
As the name would suggest, Chardonel is a hybrid wine which is a cross between Chardonnay and Seyval. It’s not unlike Chardonnay in color and aroma and is a generally dry wine.
This Michigan wine is definitely reminiscent of Gewurztraminer but with some distinct spice added, which is hard to ignore. You’ll also taste the high acidity and sweetness along with aromas of orange peel and melon. But while there is a sweetness to Traminette, it certainly isn’t overpowering in any way.
Five Things You Need To Know About Michigan Wine
There Are Yearly Wine Events That Can’t Be Missed
Most states that have multiple wine regions are also privy to wine events throughout the year to celebrate that and Michigan is no different. Blossom Days is a two-day event held in May to bless the cherry and grape blossoms for the upcoming growing season. Then there is the Great Lakes Wine Festival, which is also held in May every year. It’s a festival that offers wine tastings from wineries all over the state along with the proper food pairings. Michigan also has the Paw Paw Wine and Harvest Festival every September. This festival also celebrates wine but is a more family-friendly event that can be enjoyed by all.
Ice Wine Is The State’s Pride And Joy
It’s no secret that Michigan can have some seriously harsh winters, but when it comes to ice wine, those cold temperatures are sort of perfect for true ice wine that can’t be copied in other states. Ice wine is created when grapes are picked at the right temperature where the water is frozen inside of the grapes, but the sugar hasn’t frozen. The Michigan ice wine that results from the painstaking process of creating it has a honey-like flavor that is incomparable to many other varieties.
Michigan Is One Of The Largest Grape-Growing States
With 13,700 acres of vineyards, Michigan is the fourth largest grape-growing state. That might be surprising to some, especially since it might not be the first state you think of when it comes to wine in general. But with roughly 3,050 of those acres dedicated to wine grapes specifically, Michigan is in the top 10 states in wine production, which is a pretty big deal. And annually, the state bottles more than 2.7 million gallons of wine.
The Great Lakes Play An Important Role
The surrounding lakes and resulting glacial soil make a big difference in agricultural production. In fact, most of Michigan’s wine grapes grow in vineyards that are 25 miles from Lake Michigan or less. Although some might expect the lake to give off lake effect snow and extremely cold air, it actually helps temper the air and protects crops against early frost.
Harvest Season Lasts Fairly Long
The typical harvest season in the northern hemisphere lasts from August to October. But in Michigan, it can last all the way into November for late-ripening vinifera wines that grow in the northwest area of the state. Even so, the lake effect snow and frost from Lake Michigan helps protect wine grape plants as much a possible, so the fact that harvest season can be longer in Michigan comes as no big surprise.
Specialty Wines In Michigan
Michigan is home to more than a dozen different wine varieties, but other than those, it is also known for ice wine. Only a small number of wineries in the state actually make the wine because it is such a time consuming and strenuous process to properly harvest these partly frozen wine grapes. Because of the temperament of grapes for ice wine, there aren’t many bottles produced every year, but Michigan remains one of the premier wine-making states for ice wine.
Michigan is also one of the premier states in the U.S. for sweet fermented fruit wine production. Because apples and cherries are commonly grown fruits in Michigan, it’s no big surprise that apple and cherry fruit wines are also popular in wine production. And because of the high number of tart cherries that are grown in the state, wineries often make and sell cherry wine, spice cherry wine, and wines that have a blend of wine grapes and cherries together.
The Six Best Wines In Michigan That You Need To Try Right Now
St. Julian Wine Company Solera Cream Sherry
If you are looking for the best dessert wine to pair with your Michigan meal, then the St. Julian Wine Company Solera Cream Sherry from the St. Julian Winery is your best bet. It has the sweet full bodied taste you would expect, but the sherry also has surprising aromas of pecan and butterscotch, which make it truly unique and a great pairing for any dessert dish.
Mackinaw Trail Winery Blueberry
You can’t visit Michigan wine country without trying some kind of fruit wine since it is one of the varieties the state is known for overall. So if you need one to try, the Mackinaw Trail Winery Blueberry wine from the Mackinaw Trail Winery could be the perfect option. The wine is more of a red color than anything, but you will taste distinct notes of sweet blueberries throughout. And because it’s such a sweet wine, you should probably drink it chilled.
Verterra Winery 2016 Dry Riesling
There is no denying that people love white wine. Even those who are more casual wine drinkers tend to respond best to dry white wines more than darker reds. So for the top white in Michigan, the Verterra Winery’s 2016 Dry Riesling is a fine option. While you will get a touch of sweetness from this Riesling, you can also expect it to be dry and less abrasive in overall flavor.
Chateau Fontaine 2016 Laughing Waters Dry Rosé
For those who prefer a rosé above all else as a nice middle ground between whites and dar kreds, the Laughing Waters Rosé from the Chateau Fontaine Winery might be the best choice. It can be enjoyed chilled or at room temperature, but as it warms, you will be able to notice more flavors like hints of strawberry.
Walloon Lake Winery North Arm Noir
Those who prefer dry red wines will likely take to Walloon Lake Winery’s North Arm Noir, which was actually voted as best dry red wine in Michigan at the 2017 Michigan Wine Competition. The dry red has a classic oak finish and notes of black currant, so it isn’t too strong, but it gives off the kinds of aromas you would expect from the state’s best dry red.
Leelanau Cellars’ Canned Wines
It might not sound like the poshest thing, but the newest craze to hit Michigan wines is the canned wines produced by Leelanau Cellars. It comes in white, red, and rosé options and the cans make it easy to enjoy the authentic Michigan wine without needing a fancy dinner party to do so. Though you can spruce up your next backyard barbeque with some canned wine rather than a pack of regular old beer.
If you thought that going to Michigan wine country was as simple as making a quick trip to the northern state and calling it a day, then obviously you need to think again. There are five premier regions to choose from and thousands of acres and miles to explore in order to get the most out of your Michigan wine tasting experience. And you wouldn’t be alone, as millions of visitors travel to Michigan every year to do just that. No matter what your wine preference is, there is something to satisfy your taste, but there are also other unique wines that you might not find elsewhere. Or, that you might not find to be quite as special. Like ice wine, for example. And fruity wine. While you might be able to find variations of those in other states, Michigan is known for those specialty wines among its many others. You can’t really deny the kind of pull that has over wine lovers everywhere. And because Michigan has a slightly longer harvest season than some other areas privy to wine production, you can visit the state during months other than those in the summertime. In short, Michigan should probably be on your wine tour list, if only to try some truly crisp and fruity whites that are unlike those of other places in the U.S.