Grape Varieties in Michigan

After hitting approximately 30 wineries in Michigan – both in the south-central part of the state, and up north in Traverse City, I have a few observations on varieties.

I’m glad to see some plantings of Austrian grapes – Gruner Veltliner and Blaufrankisch (aka Lemburger).  When you consider the embayments and lakes around Traverse City, these seem like obvious choices, given their similarity in latitude, weather, and mesoclimate. I hope to see a lot more plantings of these grapes in this part of the US in the future. They provide something different from the same-old Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc. There’s also a nice heritage connection – many of the Europeans who settled the Great Lakes area came from the same stomping grounds as those grapes: Mitteleuropa aka Central Europe aka the old Habsburg Austro-Hungarian empire. I grew up surrounded by Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Germans, and Poles, and their cuisine is perfectly suited for these grapes.

There’s much more Pinot Noir in the fields than I was expecting, even given its popularity in the last 10-15 years, and its suitability for a harsher continental climate.  I don’t see a particular style emerging just yet; many of the vintages are somewhere in the middle between the light, delicate, fruit & cream style, and the meaty, mushroomy, darker and spicier style of Pinot.

I continue to see Cabernet Franc planted in good quantities; most, if not all, of the Bordeaux-style red blends are heavy on the Cab Franc. As with the Austrian grapes, I think this is a particularly well-suited variety for this part of the US – and it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of my favorite grapes.

It’s also pleasing to see more than just Riesling and Chardonnay in whites: there are plentiful choices in Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Chenin Blanc.

 

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