By ELIZABETH DANEFF
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan wineries are boosting their marketing efforts to help build the state’s profile as a premier wine region in the United States.
Recent studies by Michigan State University and the Michigan Agricultural Statistics Services prove that MichiganÕs grape and wine industry is a top contributor to the stateÕs overall economy.
According to a recently released study, MichiganÕs grape and wine industry contributed more than $75 million in state economic activity in 2000.
Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Agriculture, said, “This study confirms the important and increasing role that MichiganÕs grape growers and wineries play in our stateÕs agricultural diversity and strength, as well as the contribution they add to the stateÕs overall economy.”
According to the department, more than 3,100 tons of grapes were processed to make Michigan wine in 2000. That is almost twice as many tons as processed in 1996.
Most of Michigan’s wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. The “lake effect” protects the vines with snow in winter and slows budding in the spring, which helps avoid frost damage. This extends the growing season by up to four weeks.
In Traverse City, the Chateau Chantal Winery and B&B has been attracting tourists to Northwest MichiganÕs wine region since 1993.
“Agricultural tourism has been important for a long time to our economy, and to be able to vacation in our own state and to have such a beautiful area within reach is a wonderful thing,” said manager Elizabeth Berger.
Michigan is home to four federally approved viticultural areas. Near Traverse City, they include the Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula. In the southwest part of the state, lie the Lake Michigan Shore and Fennville appellations.
To help market MichiganÕs vineyards and wineries, two Michigan organizations were recently awarded a one-time federal grant through MDA.
Organized in December, the Southwest Michigan Wine Trail Association was awarded $5,000. Secretary Kim Babcock, who represents St. Julian Wine Co. in Paw Paw, said the money will be used to design and distribute brochures, attracting tourists to the areaÕs 10 wineries.
In Berrien Springs, Tyson Lemon, board member of the association, said smaller vineyards and wineries across the state will benefit the most.
“I think the grant will really help smaller and newer wineries,” Lemon said. “They have smaller advertising budgets, so this will help promote the region as a tourist destination.”
In Northern Michigan, the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association will receive $2,500 to produce a promotional brochure on the vineyard and winery stops along the peninsula.
Lee Lutes, president of the association and general manager of Sutton’s Bay’s Blackstar Farms, said the money could be used to put billboards on interstate highways from Detroit and Chicago or to bring in consultants to help the group better market its wineries.
“I think the grant will benefit the area in a number of ways,” he said. “WeÕre going to draw attention to farming operations in the area. These are farms that are under pressure to sell to developers.
“Anything we can do to promote this region as an agriculture area is going to promote the area as a whole.”
Bernie Rink, owner of Lake LeelanauÕs Boskydel Vineyards, said he prefers an older style of marketing: word of mouth. He said his winery is one of the oldest in the area, attracting people from all over the state.
“Most of my business is word of mouth,” he said. “I discourage wine tours and buses from the city. IÕm open every day of the year and I donÕt advertise. Yet, I still sell all of my wine.”
The MSU wine study also details information regarding the characteristics and behaviors of winery tourists. It found that travelers from in-state and out-of-state locations will extend their stay in communities for at least one-half day to specifically include winery visits in their vacation.
Berger said having a bed-and-breakfast on the farm gives the winery a special feeling.
“People find something romantic about farms,” she said. “Promoting agricultural tourism is a very important part of our marketing strategy. Visitors want to see how we operate. With a dairy farm, you canÕt just walk up to the farmer and ask to see how milk is produced.
“WeÕre turning the farm product into a retail product right on our site. WeÕre inviting the public in.”
Lutes said that in his 14-year career in the wine industry, he has visited vineyards and wineries all over the world. In his opinion, Leelanau County’s are among the best.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for wineries,” he said. “The brochures will help draw a critical mass of people to wineries near the shores of Lake Michigan.”
“This peninsula is as, or more unique than most grape growing regions in the world,” Lutes said. “Every home site is a perfect site for a vineyard. ItÕs the Great Lakes that allow us to do all of this.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ELIZABETH DANEFF