Michigan’s Wine Industry Continues to Age Well
Often, Michigan is known for the Great Lakes, sand dunes and gorgeous summers. What may surprise some people is that it’s also becoming known for its wine. That’s right, the Mitten State is now being recognized as a top wine region in not just the country, but the world. In 2016, Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated Michigan as one of the world’s six up-and-coming wine regions. Being the only U.S. state on the list not only made Michigan stand out, but it has been continuing to drive success for local wineries.
About 45 miles down the road from Lansing sits Sandhill Crane Vineyards, located right off Walz Road in Jackson, Mich. Owned and operated by Norman Moffatt and his family, Sandhill has been open since September 2003 and has been a local favorite from the start.
“[Sandhill] started as a hobby of my dad’s and opened with about seven wines on our tasting list,” said Heather Price, executive director of Sandhill Crane Vineyards. “We’ve grown a lot since then!”
Grown they have. What started as a small family hobby has now doubled in size, accommodating plenty of live events including weddings, showers, live music and more.
“Probably our biggest step (both a peak and valley) was more than doubling the building in 2011,” said Price. “We added much more space in the cellar, as well as adding on what is now the cafe, banquet room, additional rest rooms and a wonderful deck.”
Today, the winery has more than 30 wines on their list, including best sellers like Blushing Crane and Rhapsody in Red. Besides being locally owned and operated, Sandhill prides itself on sourcing 100 percent of its fruit from Michigan. Their batches are often small, so their wine list is constantly changing. That includes their “Doing Good” wines, which help benefit the Haehnle Crane Sanctuary just down the road and where they got their namesake.
“From the beginning, we felt a connection to the Haehnle Sanctuary, just a few miles away,” said Price. “We were sharing cranes with them, after all. So, we decided to come up with a wine to help benefit the sanctuary (which is run by the Audubon Society). Since then we have offered a number of charity wines, which our customers love.”
Sandhill is just one of many thriving wineries in the Mitten State. According to the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, Michigan had a total of 132 wineries in 2017; those wineries bottle more than 2.4 million gallons of wine per year. Two studies — one done by WineAmerica, a Washington, D.C.- based industry group, and another funded by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development — have estimated that the wine industry will boost the state’s economy by roughly $5 billion.
The industry is also estimated to bolster the job market significantly. According to the WineAmerica report, more than 27,000 people work directly in the Michigan wine industry; an additional 6,867 people work in secondary areas like suppliers or vendors in goods and services. When it comes to full-time positions, the report goes on to find that the average pay is $37,200, including wages and benefits, per year. In total, the report estimates that the wine industry touches more than 43,000 jobs and directly generates $2.1 billion in economic activity in Michigan overall.
Now that Michigan has been recognized as an up-and-coming wine territory, tourism continues to be a boon. According to the 2017 study funded by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, “514,130 people made nearly 1.7 unique visits to Michigan’s wineries and vineyards.”
Going beyond just the dollars that tourists spend at wineries and vineyards on goods, events, food and more, the study also reported on the amount of money tourists spent on other parts of the state economy: an estimated $252.7 million. That money generates roughly 4,042 jobs — in another sense, $88.6 million in wages.
The amount of sheer growth Michigan’s wine industry has made during the past decade is astonishing. In 2007, there were 49 wineries total. Since then, Michigan has seen a 169 percent increase in total wineries, with 83 percent of those locations having opened within the past 10 years. It’s showing no signs of stopping; according to a survey and statewide impact study done by John Dunham & Associates, 82 percent of survey respondents reported they have plans to increase production in 2018.
Currently, the state of Michigan devotes 3,050 acres to just wine grapes. That amount of acreage is also expected to increase in the coming years. Most of Michigan’s wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan, but there are vineyards in every part of the state, including the Upper Peninsula.
In the past, Michigan has been primarily known for its manufacturing, relying heavily on the auto industry. But with these numbers, it’s undeniable that branching out into the wine industry has perhaps created a newly notable industry for Michigan.