The state’s brewers and distillers could soon have a louder voice in the government.
Early last month, Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, introduced a bill that would expand the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council to include representatives from the state’s various beverage industries and the farmers that serve them.
The bill requests a name change to the Grape, Wine, Brewing and Distilling Industries Council and would expand the membership from 12 members to 16. The bill currently is in the Senate Committee on Agriculture.
“Microbreweries, small distillers and brewpubs currently fund the Grape and Wine Industry Council through liquor license and renewal fees — yet they are not allowed a seat at the table or support from the council,” Hansen said. “This measure will ensure that everyone who funds the council will be represented.”
When the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council was formed in 1985, there was little need for representation of the brewing and distilling industry, and the wine industry was budding, said Kyle Van Strien, co-owner of Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids.
Now, however, Van Strien said it is important the two other alcohol industries in the state are represented as their economic contribution increases.
If the bill passes as recommended, the council would also include a brewer, hop or barley grower, distiller and a food retailer who sells Michigan beer or a restaurant operator who serves Michigan beer or spirits in staggered three-year terms.
“It only makes sense for us to be included,” he said. “At the time, research of grapes was noble and justified, a way to help boost the economy.”
With the grape-growing industry now mature, the state can now focus on other areas to help the food industry grow.
Currently, Long Road Distillery uses 100 percent Michigan grains in its products, but that’s not to say it hasn’t looked elsewhere for heritage varieties, such as blue, red and white corn. Van Strien said a network of growers willing to grow more unique types of grains is still needed in Michigan, and having the support of the council to help fund research and marketing would help that network develop more quickly.
When Pilot Malt House, which supplies malted grains for brewers and distillers, was getting started in 2011, it had trouble sourcing locally grown grains to malt. Now, farmers are calling Pilot to begin growing wheat and barley for the operation.
Brewers also are starting to look more toward locally grown products, but not enough is available at the current time to fully supply the industry.
Van Strien said, should the bill pass, having a seat at the table will help grow the Michigan beverage agriculture segment more quickly.
“This shouldn’t hurt the grape growers by any means,” he said. “There are hundreds of wineries now and this will just help grow the agriculture industry as a whole.”
Of the state’s 13,700 acres of grapes, about 2,850 are devoted to wine grapes, the fifth-largest acreage of wine grapes in the nation. Wine contributes approximately $300 million annually to Michigan’s economy.
According to the Michigan Brewers Guild, beer contributed more than $600 million to the state’s economy, with both brewers and distillers paying into the Grape and Wine Industry Council without receiving any benefits.
“This measure would ensure that brewers, distillers, and hops and barley growers are eligible for industry support, similar to what is now provided for the grape and wine industry — such as research, promotion and financial aid to growers,” Hansen said. “This will be a boon to the entire industry and to Michigan agriculture, in general.”