BUCHANAN,MI (WZZM) - States like California are known for their wine, but did you know Michigan is becoming a contender too?
"It's a really popular thing to do," says Mike Merchant. He's been the winemaker for Tabor Hill, a Buchanan, Michigan winery for over 25 years. When he got his start, the winery was one of only two in the state.
"Really, the mentality at the time, in the early 80's, was competing for the Chicagoan driving through Michigan with $20 dollars to spend."
Today, there are several wineries in southwest Michigan. The area has become a hotspot for tourists. "Now, you can spend a weekend here and still not see all the wineries, not to mention all the rest of the tourist stuff."
At Tabor Hill, they grow their own grapes. Crews are busy hedging the vines. They're also cluster thinning the grapes. If you kept all these grapes, they'd never ripen."
Right now, Michigan is one of the top ten states for winemaking and growing grapes, according to Linda Jones, Executive Director for the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. "Michigan is 2nd only to California in diversity of crops that we can produce."
This year, the early spring and late frost caused problems for fruit growers. Wine grapes were the exception. Now, the lack of rain is causing concern. But, on a typical year, Michigan is ideal because of its "lake effect". In the spring, Lake Michigan stays colder longer and delays the bud break. Jones says, "In the fall, it's the reverse effect. The lake holds the heat and so our first frost is much later on the lakeshore than it is inland."
At Tabor Hill, the grapes will be harvested in September and made into wine over the next several months. The final product is bottled and shipped throughout Michigan. Only a few Michigan wineries distribute nationwide.
Jones says winemakers are learning how to make wine from new types of grapes that grow best in Michigan. They're also building a reputation that's being recognized across the country.
Merchant says, "We just won a double gold in a San Francisco wine competition. It's kind of a big deal to win a big award out west."
When it comes to rankings, California remains the dominant wine producer and it's likely to stay that way. But, when it comes to taste, many would say that Michigan wines taste just as good and in some cases, better.