By EDITH ZHOU
Capital News Service
LANSING – Significant growth in the wine-grape industry and wide availability of cherries have created a boost in Michigan wine production and its appearance in other states and even other countries.
“The industry is growing fast—nine wineries were added to our list last year,” said Karel Bush, promotion specialist at the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council.
According to Bush, the state has more than 150 wineries with more than 100 of them using home-grown fruits. And half are located along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Traverse City to Southwest Michigan.
Bush said both the quality and the quantity of this year’s wine is very good.
“The warm weather gives the fruit a higher sugar content, and the harvest came earlier and larger at the end of the season,” she said.
Based on figures from the council, Michigan is among the top three states in cherry wine production, and its annual grape wine production ranks around tenth in the nation.
Jamie Zmitko-Somers, international marketing manager of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, recently visited China with Gov. Rick Snyder and the director of the department to explore more business cooperation.
“There are big demands for wine in major cities there, and we found that there may be potential opportunities for our Michigan wine. We already have a winery that is exporting their white wine to China and we are looking for opportunities to promote our sweeter fruit wines to China or other Asian countries,” she said.
Chateau Grand Traverse Winery in Traverse City is the only winery that is exporting wine. It has the ability of producing 110,000 cases per year.
According to Edward O’Keefe III, president of the winery, his company started to export to Japan in the 1990s, and recently began working with a trade company in Shanghai to sell its products in China.
O’Keefe said that it’s interesting that the late harvest riesling is the best seller in both the U.S. and China. “And we also sent several other kinds of white wine and fruit wine to China for the market test.”
O’Keefe said that his company sells 500 cases to China each year, which is not a significant amount compared to the size of his business, but he sees future opportunities.
“Wine is an unique product — everyone around the world can understand it and love it,” he said.
The department recently held a seminar explaining the requirements for exporting wine internationally. Several companies and wineries attended.
“There are some federal requirements and paperwork to do, but as long as we have wineries exporting, we know it’s manageable,” Zmitko-Somers said.
Bush said that the biggest challenge of wine exporting is the size of the wineries.
“Most of the wineries in our state are family-owned, but only a handful of them have the production ability to export wine,” she said.
Bob Jacobson, the president of Leelanau Cellars Winery in Omena, said that his company has no plan to export wine, despite being large enough to consider it.
The winery has about 90 acres of vineyards along Grand Traverse Bay and produces more than 133,000 cases annually. Besides Michigan, it sells wine to other states such as Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
“We haven’t started exploring the international market. There may be some other paperwork to do if you want to export to other countries. Our next step is to extend our market to other states,” Jacobson said.
Zmitko-Somers said that there wouldn’t be a big economic impact from exporting, because the wine industry is still fairly new.
“We are hoping that the export will help raise our wine industry to another level, make people know that Michigan has great wine and encourage more people to become involved in the industry,” she said.
By EDITH ZHOU