Wine grapes growing in popularity throughout state

There’s also a push to turn the Grand Rapids area into a wine destination.
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Grapes on vines.iStock

The Michigan Craft Beverage Council released its 2020 Michigan Grape and Hop Inventory report in March, and it revealed the wine grape inventory in Michigan increased by 325 acres.

According to the report, the state has 3,375 acres of wine grapes that are maintained on 257 farms. In 2016, there were 3,050 acres of wine grapes grown on 252 farms. 

The type of grape most often planted in the state is Riesling. There are currently 670 Riesling acres in Michigan, but “other grapes with notable acreage include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc,” the report stated.

Since 2011, there has been a 400-acre increase in grapes on the northwest side of the state, which includes Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, among others. In that same region, during that nine-year time span, there were eight new farms developed for wine grapes.

In the northern part of the state, including the Upper Peninsula and Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmett counties, among others, nine grape farms were added since 2016 for a total of 46.

The southwestern side of the state saw a decline in farms and the acreage for grapes, according to the report. In 2011, there were 288 farms, but last year the total number of farms was reduced to 166. In 2011, there were 13,250 acres for grapes but last year that number dwindled to 8,600 acres. 

Bob Bonga, owner of Cascade Winery in Kentwood, doesn’t have a vineyard, so he has been buying grapes from vineyards in the southwestern part of the state for a number of years. However, he said his contract with one of his longtime producers of grapes was recently canceled.

“My contract with my biggest producer that I have been buying from for the last few years was canceled after last year because St. Julian pretty much gobbled up his production,” he said, referring to one of the largest wineries in the state. “He had a couple hundred acres. St. Julian is in growth mode and they are definitely taking up a lot of (grape) production. They are the oldest winery in the state of Michigan.”

St. Julian Winery is based in Paw Paw and is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year.

Nevertheless, Bonga said he believes the wine grape inventory will continue to grow.

“Hopefully, our state will continue to increase that because the demand is there, consumption of wine and ciders are up and it continues to go up, and I don’t see where that is going to go down anytime soon,” he said. 

While the northern and northwestern portions of the state have been steadily increasing wine grape inventory, Dale Flanery and his wife, Mary, are trying to promote the Grand Rapids region so that more wineries will come to the area. 

They are the owners of Stoney Ridge Vineyard in Kent City. They purchased what was then farmland in 2012 and converted it into a vineyard by planting thousands of grapevines in 2013 and 2017 that cover 4.5 acres of land. 

They grow seven varieties of grapes and last June opened a tasting room and winery. Flanery said they plan to open a kitchen next month.

Mary Flanery deems Grand Rapids the “central region” due to its location between Fenn Valley Vineyard and St. Julian to the south and the Traverse City wineries in the north.

“Our goal is to get this center part of Michigan to have its own AVA, which is American Viticultural Area,” Flanery said. “Once you have that designation you can start branding your wines and wineries in that region, similar to what they do in Old Mission, Leelanau Peninsula and the Lake Michigan Shore AVAs.”

Mary Flanery said the demand for more wineries and vineyards will continue to increase in this region because people are becoming more informed and educated about wine and the different flavors of wine, as well as what types of food to pair with them.

“(People) no longer have to drive two-and-a-half hours to have a full winery and vineyard experience,” she said. “It is right here locally, 20 minutes from Grand Rapids.”

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