Michigan Wine Conference 2014 Photos and Mini Review
Which Midwestern state’s wine industry is more popular than any NFL or NBA team? With over 2 million visitors during 2012 (the last year for which numbers are available), Michigan wineries attract more visitors than any professional football or basketball team in the U.S.
That’s just one of the interesting facts from this year’s Michigan Wine Conference, which was held in Traverse City at the end of February. Other interesting tidbits about the Michigan wine industry are the 176 Gold Medals Michigan wines earned at competitions during 2013 and the $5 million in direct tax revenue to the State.
The 2014 Michigan Conference was not purely about Michigan however. The Conference had an impressive line up of out-of-state wine speakers who brought ideas from other successful wine regions.
Lise Asimont, the director of grower relations at Francis Coppola Winery in Sonoma, explained how she tracks grapevine phenology at over 150 grape growers spread out along a 400 mile long swath of California. Among the data she collects about each grower are budbreak date, duration of bloom, rainfall, growing degree days and diurnal temperature fluctuations.
If that’s not enough data, she also uses blade analysis to record micronutrients including magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron and calcium. She told the audience that all these metrics are combined to determine what grapes will be used for each of Coppola’s 59 different wine labels.
The keynote speaker for the Thursday night banquet at the Grand Traverse Resort was John Martini of Anthony Road Wine Company in New York. Martini started growing grapes on Seneca Lake in 1973 and began making wine in 1990 using an old apple press. (Today, there are over 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes.)
Martini said he sees parallels between the Michigan wine industry of today and the Finger Lakes twenty years ago. “I know you’re going to be every bit as successful as we were,” Martini told the audience. “I’ve tasted your wines, and they’re very good.”
The Michigan wine industry is thriving, although the coldest night of year in the Traverse City area was during the Conference. The low temp in Traverse City on Thursday night was -16F, which is not good news for the area’s European wine grapes. (During the 2014 Wisconsin Wine Conference, where temperatures were also well below zero, this reporter saw Wisconsin Dells water park customers going to their cars in bathing suits. In contrast, many of the 250 Michigan Conference attendees seemed to favor the warmth of the hotel bar.)
According to Linda Jones, the executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, one of the challenges the Michigan wine industry now faces is the need for more and larger grape growers to lower production costs.
Sean O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse, who has 120 acres of vineyards, has a different kind of dilemma. “We’re at the point of an oversupply of grapes because of limited winemaking capacity,” O’Keefe said. “Where are we going to put all the juice?” he asked the audience.