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Michigan Wine Regions

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | July 01, 2011

Michigan wineries hold a unique position within the winemaking industry of the United States. This is illustrated by Michigan's excellent climate for the production of fruit as well as the youthful nature of Michigan's wine industry. The youth surrounding Michigan's wine industry is attributed to commercial winemaking starting only after the repeal of Prohibition. Even after Repeal, growth came slowly for Michigan's wineries. Starting in the 1970s, Michigan wineries began investigating the production possibilities of high quality wine. The effort of quality winemaking led to the establishment of the Fennville American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1981. Today Michigan has four AVAs that represent the various wine regions of Michigan.

Four nationally recognized--and non-state overlapping--American Viticultural Areas exist within the State of Michigan. Michigan's AVAs are located within close proximity to Lake Michigan and are somewhat smaller than most AVAs found within the United States. With each AVA being close to Lake Michigan, beneficial climactic moderating effects are present within each AVA. Michigan's four AVAs are the Fennville AVA, the Lake Michigan Shore AVA, the Leelanau Peninsula AVA and the Old Mission Peninsula AVA.

The first AVA to be formed in Michigan was the Fennville AVA. The Fennville AVA was established in 1981 and consists of 75,000 acres. Geographically speaking, the Fennville AVA is located in Allegan County in southwestern Michigan. The Fennville AVA is completely contained within the larger Lake Michigan Shore AVA and borders Lake Michigan on the west. North and south borders are the Kalamazoo River on the north and the Black River on the south.

Like most of Michigan's AVAs, Fennville enjoys the advantages of a favorable fruit-growing climate moderated by Lake Michigan. Due to the great depths of Lake Michigan, the lake waters rarely freeze over during the winter. Due to this fact, the vineyards of the Fennville AVA are slightly warmer during the winter months and slightly cooler during the spring months. Of particular importance are the cool winds that occur during the springtime. These cool winds typically retard grape bud development when springtime frosts are common. The stunned growth of grape buds is important as early and fully developed grape buds are usually killed by springtime frosts.

Soil conditions within the Fennville AVA show sandy properties and can be described as unique when compared to soils of surrounding areas. Grape varieties grown in the Fennville AVA are Cabernet Franc and Chardonel. Among other interesting statistics, as of 2009 the Fennville AVA is home to only one winery. This winery is known as Fenn Valley Vineyards and is run by the Welsch family.

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The Lake Michigan Shore AVA is Michigan's largest AVA and was established in 1983. At 1,280,000 acres, the Lake Michigan Shore AVA contains the majority of Michigan's wineries. The Lake Michigan Shore AVA is also located in southwestern Michigan and contains the Fennville AVA as a sub region. Geographical boundaries of the Lake Michigan Shore AVA are the Kalamazoo River to the north and the Michigan/Indiana state line to the south. East and west borders include Lake Michigan to the west with the eastern border being approximately 45 miles inland at certain spots.

The climate of the Lake Michigan Shore AVA is extremely similar to that of the Fennville AVA. Winter months are somewhat warmer while the springtime is somewhat cooler. It is important to realize that not all Michigan AVAs climates are identical. This can be seen in the length of the growing seasons. AVAs contained to the southern part of Michigan--of which the Lake Michigan Shore AVA is part of--typically have growing seasons that are two weeks longer than their northern counterparts. The soil conditions of the Lake Michigan Shore AVA are of glacial moraine characteristics and are consistent throughout the entire AVA. Grape varieties of the Lake Michigan Shore AVA include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Lemberger, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Syrah, Vidal Blanc, and Vignoles.

Located in the northwestern part of the state of Michigan are two additional AVAs. These regions are known as the Leelanau Peninsula AVA and the Old Mission Peninsula AVA. The Leelanau Peninsula AVA was founded in 1982 and contains a total area of about 75,000 acres contained within Leelanau County. Offshore islands contained within Leelanau County are excluded from the Leelanau Peninsula AVA.

With the Leelanau Peninsula AVA being located further north than other Michigan AVAs, weather problems are often encountered. It is a fact that the northern AVAs of Michigan are generally cooler than their southern AVA counterparts. Also, it is not uncommon for frost to occur throughout the majority of the year. Frosts are a manageable problem as Lake Michigan provides similar climate moderating effects as seen in Michigan's southern AVAs. The soils found in the Leelanau Peninsula AVA are complex in their makeup and contain clay, sand, and loam deposited on a bed of granite and limestone. Grape varieties include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling.

The Old Mission Peninsula AVA is Michigan's smallest AVA. Established in 1987 and at 19,200 acres, the Old Mission Peninsula AVA is located in Grand Traverse County. Wineries located in the Old Mission Peninsula AVA tend to be isolated but are known for producing fine high quality wines. Climate conditions in the Old Mission Peninsula AVA are very similar to those found within the Leelanau Peninsula AVA. As such, grape varieties more suited to cool growing conditions are grown here. Varieties include Riesling, Chardonnay, Gew├╝rztraminer, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

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