Here’s a brief report from the 3rd annual Northern Michigan Wine Summit at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City.
Moderator Eric Villegas of the television show Fork in the Road introduced the panel and talked about the challenge of selling Michigan wine to Michiganders. He wonders why what’s in our backyard isn’t attractive to us and why we don’t fiercely promote and protect our amazing Michigan wines along the lines of how the French do.
Master Sommolier Claudia Tyagi referenced astronaut Jerry Linenger’s observation of Michigan from space and how water will be the dominant asset of the future of our state as a wine region and in general. She also recommended the book Animal, Vegetable or Miracle.
Elizabeth Schwietzer was born & raised in Detroit and is a Master Sommolier who now lives in Southern California. She touted the finesse of our sparkling wines & reislings of the area and says that she’s hoping to take back a lot of information about our wines and get some placements. Michigan needs all kinds of champions like this to carry our wines to a wider audience. Elizabeth stressed the importance of having tasting room and wine store staff who can talk knowledgeably about our wines.
Linda Jones of the Michigan Wine & Grape Council hopes that everyone will pick up a copy of Michigan Wine Country Magazine. She also notes that April is Michigan Wine Month and that sales of Michigan wine rose 5% while wine sales as a whole were flat in Michigan and that 18 new wineries will be opening this year, making it a growth industry at a time when little is growing. There’s a podcast you can check out as well. Linda noted that travelers might want to check out the Vino Bello Wine Bar at the Detroit Airport for their Michigan wine selection. She’s calling for a culinary tourism push in Michigan, to which I can only say AMEN! Linda also says that we need more acreage, so if you have some land that is suitable for a vineyard, get busy!
Leonard Pennachetti of Cave Springs Cellars in Ontario started the Ontario’s VQA. He noted that Canada has a little of the Great Lakes action as well. He notes that most of the New World’s wine regions are very dependent on irrigation and are mostly industrial agriculture operations. While the whole issue of water is something that these regions will be grappling with, he also notes that these region’s don’t have the same terrior (a word to describe the special characters that geography and climate lend to wine) that we do in our dynamic and changeable continental maritime climate. He thinks that we should look at creating a brand for the Great Lakes along the lines of what they’ve done in the Pacific Northwest, both for marketing the wine and for marketing the wine country experiences that we can offer as the Canadian wineries tie into Niagra Falls. Len noted that in Ontario they are now tracking the economic impact of locally produced wine … something that Michigan’s wine industry should really look at.
Rick Coates of the Northern Express asked when Meijer will start doing Saturday afternoon wine tastings. Mark said that if the Governor were here, he’d ask her. Mark added that Meijer is starting a wine steward program at their flagship stores to put knowledgeable people in the store. Rick also noted that the International Culinary Tourism Association is forming a Great Lakes chapter this year.
Claudia thought that setting people up who love our wines as that first point of contact is a great plan, because if you love something, you sell it better. She noted the cooperation between the Leelanau & Old Mission Peninsulas is inspiring. She expressed that a feeling that people in Michigan were waking up to the decline of our industrial past and looking for inspirational stories like the success of our wine industry.
Elizabeth teaches classes about wine and says that she tends to focus on regions when she gives talks and thinks that grouping wines from the same watershed makes a lot of sense.
Linda remarked that as our wine country spreads to northeast Michigan and other areas of the state, it becomes easier to sell promotional efforts to our legislators.
Someone (who might have been Andy Mcfarlane from Absolute Michigan and the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner’s Association) asked how our industry can make the case that the wine industry is worthy of funding Michigan. Len said that getting the message to the capital requires people on the ground and hard, business data. He says that winery owners have been instrumental in leading the charge in Ontario. He also suggests that while the tendency of a young industry is to try to everything, focusing on signature varietals like reisling that do well here will help us promote and grow our recognition.
Shawn O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse said that while our dry wines are great, there’s nothing wrong with sweet wines. It’s all about taste and what you like!
Jill James of Gills Pier said that Michigan needs to look at training that front line of tasting room and vineyard employees so that they can see this as a career rather than just a summer job. Linda said that there is some training through CVBs and other tourism industry organizations that can be customized.
At this point, lunch was served and I have to say that it’s not all bad working when you get a tasty meal from the Great Lakes Culinary Institute along with a nice glass of wine!
Staton Lorenz of Meal Tickets suggested that if there’s anything that’s pure in Michigan, it’s our foods. He suggested a standard for foods that would merit the seal of “Pure Michigan” – an interesting concept for sure.
Mark noted that the media is a huge partner in growing the industry and that we’re not doing as good a job as California, Oregon & Washington is getting our story out and in making wine and wine culture accessible to the general population. Claudia echoed his call for “fam” tours for media and restaurants to spread the “gospel of the Great Lakes.” Rick noted that that Amanda Danielson of Stella is working on a Wine Camp here in Traverse City.