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Wine "shortage"? Not in Michigan, anyway

Picking grapes at Brys Estate for their Cabernet Franc. / Beth Price

Grapes, anyone? / Beth Price

Harvested grapes. / Beth Price

Wine gets better with age -- and the right barrels. / Beth Price

Brys Estate's Cabernet Franc grapes being harvested. / Beth Price

The work is being done by Agrivine. / Beth Price

In the wine business, it's important to keep track of your grapes. / Beth Price

A cry of panic went up among wine lovers in late October, when Morgan Stanley Research announced impending doom: a wine shortage.
 
"There's just not enough wine in the world," the report said, "and the problem is only going to get worse." The researchers cited a global shortage as wine production fell five percent within the last year.
 
Time to hoard your favorite wines?
 
"I saw the report when it came out," says Chris Baldyga, one of the lads of 2 Lads Winery in Traverse City. "Shortage? They didn't include reds in their count at the end of 2012. In truth, 2012 was perhaps the greatest vintage year we've had in northern Michigan, and 2013 was one of the biggest harvests ever. We were at capacity. They didn't use that data."
 
While the blistering summer of 2012 was hard on all types of fruit in Michigan and elsewhere, 2013 more than made up for it, Baldyga says. Farmers had such an excess of fruit that it was going to waste, he says.
 
"It's exciting to see such a huge market for wines in Michigan. We just need more entrants. People look to Michigan for cars, the automobile industry, but we are becoming an important market in wines."
 
According to the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Michigan Field Office, Michigan has about 15,000 acres of vineyards, making Michigan the fourth largest grape-growing state. Vineyard acreage has doubled over the past ten years.
 
The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council reports there are 101 commercial wineries producing more than 1.3 million gallons of Michigan wine annually. That number has increased from 32 wineries in 2002, which produced 400,000 gallons.
 
Shannon Casey of Michigan By the Bottle gives little credence to the rumors of an impending shortage, but doesn't mind the rumor: "I think the buzz around this alleged wine shortage will help put Michigan wines front and center in people's minds. Everyone around the world drinks local, so it is time Michiganders do the same. With more than 100 wineries in the state, there are so many great Michigan wines."
 
Andy Green, owner of Threefold Vine Winery along with wife Janice Green, is currently moving their vineyards from the Upper Peninsula town of Garden to Stephenson, about 30 miles from Menominee. He shrugs off the shortage idea as well.
 
"Upper Peninsula weather? No, no effect at all," Green says. "You know what they say. Just wait ten minutes and it will change." He laughs. "Things shift. We don't expect our production numbers to change, even as we are moving to a smaller farm. We are using about seven acres for the vineyard in our new location, and that's about the same that we had in Garden. We'll be planting cuttings from the Garden vineyard."
 
"We have happy vineyards," Baldyga of 2 Lads Winery says of the climate's effects. "Vineyards are easier to keep up in hot summers than gardens, because we are more concerned with root growth than what's above ground. Yes, you'll get different wines in hotter years, but it's fun to see those differences. Small wineries produce a different wine year to year, whereas the big wineries give you a lab wine, always consistent. Michigan doesn't shove the same wine into a box. We let the vintage shine through."
 
According to Baldyga, 7 percent of all wines sold in Michigan were Michigan-grown, up a tick from 6.8 percent.
 
"If demand increases," Andy Green says, "we can ramp it up. In our new location, we are looking forward to providing a market for local fruit farmers. We plan on using at least 50 percent of fruit for our wines from local producers."
 
"Our vineyards are grown in a sustainable manner," adds Baldyga. "There's no other way. Michigan has a harsh climate, so you have to be a better farmer." He and business partner, the second of the 2 Lads, Cornel Olivier, both have kids, he says. "We are thinking of them when we leave the farm better than we found it."
 
Michigan Wines, the official site of Michigan's wine industry, addresses the effect of climate on Michigan's vineyards: "Most of Michigan's quality wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. Here, the lake effect protects the vines with snow in winter, retards bud break in spring, helping avoid frost damage, and extends the growing season by up to four weeks."
 
"Great wines are made in the field, not in the cellar," says Baldyga. He's been basking in grape glory since 2007, when 2 Lads Winery began business, but opened its doors to the first customers in spring 2008 with their first vintage. "We have room to grow in this state. We just need more vineyards. We need more grape farmers with guts."
 
According to this Michigan vintner, it seems, we are experiencing a shortage in vintners, not in Michigan wines. So you can feel free to drink up.

Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins.
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