I tried my first Michigan wines a couple of years ago, on New Years Eve no less!
Fun fact: Michigan has over 13,000 acres under vine, making it the 4th largest state for grape growing! However, most of that acreage is for grapes that are used to make juice. If we drill down a bit, there are only about 3,000 acres under vine with grapes destined to become wine.**
In 1679 French explorers first made wine from native grapes growing in Michigan. By the mid-1800s a wine industry is established and it thrives until Prohibition. Now there are 5 AVAs in Michigan, including Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula which constitute 51% of the vines in Michigan. There is also Lake Michigan Shore, Fennville, and Tip of the Mitt.
Vitis vinifera, which are the grapes we know and love, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc, started being planted widely in the 1970s. Today most new plantings in Michigan are v. vinifera. The most commonly grown grapes are Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Merlot, and Pinot Blanc. All of these grapes thrive and work well in cooler climates. The climate in the grape growing areas of Michigan are very cold, but Lake Michigan provides a much needed mitigating influence, which helps the grapes to survive in this cold.
Hybrids, which are a cross between v. vinifera and a native grape consist of 27% of plantings. Some consider these grapes (and subsequently these wines) to be inferior. I won’t get into the debate here, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. I once heard an MW speak (who shall remain nameless!) and he made a very interesting observation. He wondered if wine made from hybrids really is inherently inferior or is it just that no one has tried to make an excellent wine from hybrids? Native grapes make up 3% of plantings.
Mawby is a sparkling wine producer in Northern Michigan, creating traditional méthode champenoise, cuve close wines, and sparkling ciders. I have not personally visited Mawby, but was sent some samples for review. Their first vines were planted in 1973 and they now have 20 acres under vine, with plantings of: Pinot Noir, Vignoles (a hybrid), Pinot Gris, Regent (a hybrid), Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They also source Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from other vineyards. Their tasting room is open year round, with limited hours in the winter. Larry Mawby has been making their wines since 1984.
M. Lawrence Green, Michigan Sparkling ($15)
This wine is a tank method sparkler made from 70% Cayuga (a crossing of 2 hybrids) and 30% Riesling with 1.5% RS (residual sugar). The wine is pale lemon green with medium aromatic intensity. On the nose is a floral note. Overall, this wine is quite unfamiliar due to the Cayuga. The wine is not all v. vinifera grapes, so you don’t get the traditional aroma/flavor descriptors. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.
L. Mawby Blanc de Blancs, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This is a multi-vintage, traditional method sparkler made from Chardonnay grapes. The color is pale lemon green with a medium – aromatic intensity. There are faint youthful citrus aromas. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.
L. Mawby Cremant Classic, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($27)
This is a multi-vintage, traditional method sparkler made from 100% estate Vignoles, a hybrid. This wine shows citrus and yeasty/leesy notes. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.
Talismon, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($37)
This wine is made from a field blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Vignoles, and Pinot Gris. This was my favorite of the bunch, with a nice toasty nose and nuttiness on the palate. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal. I’d also enjoy a glass of this post-dinner as a palate cleanser.
Grace Rosé, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This wine is made from 98% Pinot Noir + 2% Regent, which is a hybrid grape used for color and aroma. This is a very enjoyable domestic rosé. Red fruit aromas of strawberry and raspberry. This wine would pair well with a fresh fruit dessert tart.
Tradition, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This wine is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay made in the traditional method. It’s an austere sparkling with strong acidity and citrus/green fruit notes. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.
**Statistics pulled directly from michiganwines.com