It’s that time of year when people are stocking up on wine for festive dinners and holiday parties. Despite a sizable winemaking industry in the state, Michigan wine often is stereotyped as being overly sweet, and not on par with products from other areas of the country.
But winemakers and sommeliers around the state want to break that stereotype, and maybe even convince you to pick up a Michigan-made wine for your holiday table.
Gina Shay is a sommelier and the acting vice president of the Michigan Wine Collaborative—a volunteer organization of about 180 industry members. She started her winery career in the Finger Lakes region of New York, another cool climate region. Shay said grapes from these climates, which include those grown in Michigan, are starting to gain an international reputation.
“They’re very food-friendly, they’re easy to drink, they’re fairly reasonably-priced comparatively to wines across the nation and the world. So, people are starting to take much more of an interest. It’s exciting to see,” Shay said.
Winemaker Lee Lutes is a managing member of Black Star Farms in Sutton’s Bay and Old Mission Peninsula. He said Michigan’s “sweet wine” myth stems from the fact that many early Michigan wines were made from grapes originally grown for juice. These days, vineyards around the state have added other, less sweet varietals to their repotoire. But still, said Lutes, Midwesterners do generally have a sweeter palate.
“We by all means make a lot of dry wine,” Lutes said. “But we still do make some wines that are a little bit on the sweeter side, balancing the higher acid that we tend to have in our cooler climate with a little residual sugar that makes the wine easier to drink. Especially for people who are just getting started with wine.”
Shay said it is common for emerging winemaking regions to doubt their product until a developed region validates it. Michigan wineries tend to target nearby cities like Chicago, Toledo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and New York.
“The sommeliers and the people working with consumers, either over the counter or within restaurants, they find our wines very refreshing,” Lutes said.
There are 150 commercial wineries across the state, according to Shay. She hopes that the Michigan Wine Collaborative’s marketing can help elevate the reputation of the state’s wines and prove “that Michigan wine can hang with wine of similar quality from around the world.”
As more consumers make a point to eat and drink locally, Shay and Lutes hope that attitude extends to their wine choices. Lutes’s holiday recommendation? Michigan’s 2017 vintage. Bottles of it just started rolling out to market.