The Lake Effect
Wine grapes may be famous for their long and storied histories in European nations like France, Germany, and Italy, but they are now grown wherever the climate and soil allow around the world. These and other European nations are considered “Old World” regions and continue to produce fantastic wines. However, expertise in producing high-quality wines has spread throughout the “New World” regions in the last 50 to 75 years, including to specific areas in North and South America, Asia, and Oceania. While it is far from the most famous of the “New World” regions, one grape-growing region on the rise in production and quality in recent years is the state of Michigan, located in the Upper Midwest of the United States.
Home to more than 50,000 farms, Michigan has a long history of producing fruits and vegetables, including grapes. Despite the state’s location and harsh winters, the state is second in the country in agricultural diversity, behind only California. The fertile soils, access to water, and the “lake effect” help farmers grow such a variety of produce. The lake effect is especially helpful in allowing for areas of the state to be desirable locations for some of the world’s most famous wine grape varieties.
The Great Lakes contain 21% of the world’s freshwater supply and are large enough to have a significant influence on Michigan’s climate throughout the year. The lakes accumulate or lose heat slowly during the changing of seasons, providing several advantages for farmers. Being located directly to the West of the Lower Peninsula and between the state and the direction from which prevailing winds originate, Lake Michigan plays an especially important role. While wine grapes are grown in many different parts of the states, the most famous areas lie within 20 miles of Lake Michigan due to its effect on the climate of those areas
During the winter, Lake Michigan rarely completely freezes over, so the open water helps to warm the air passing over, preventing exceptionally cold temperatures from affecting communities near Lake Michigan. The cold air and warm weather will also interact to bring lake effect snow to areas within 20 miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline, helping to insulate the vines and their roots from the cold.
In the spring, the slow warming of the lake works against the warming air, helping to cool the air passing over the lake and working to delay bud break in the vines. This delayed bud break gives the vines a better chance to avoid the potentially crop-ruining effects of overnight frost.
During the summer months, the slowly-warming water keeps vines close to the lake from getting too warm, with areas nearby the lake often seeing temperatures 5 to 10 degrees cooler than areas 20 miles inland.
Completing the cycle of seasons, the lake has a considerable effect in autumn as well. After warming all summer, Lake Michigan slowly releases its heat, warming the fall air and extending the growing season by several weeks to allow for some of the world’s favorite wine grapes to finish ripening before harvest.
While the climate is not perfect as the growing season is still fairly short and some winters can bring exceptionally cold and damaging temperatures, the growers of the Fresh Coast are continually improving their methods and carefully selecting the varietals they grow to make the most of the conditions the are provided.
The state’s most commonly-grown varietals include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. Many different grapes are grown throughout the state (yes, even in the Upper Peninsula) though, depending on what works best in that area. That includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the Southwest corner of lower peninsula, Riesling and Pinot Noir on the Traverse Wine Coast, and Seyval Blanc, Marquette, and other popular hybrids throughout the Northern and Interior areas of the state.
The goal of this site is to cover many different topics relating to the grapes grown and wines created in the Great Lakes State. This will include features on the different areas, the wineries, the grapes, the wines, and the people bringing this all together. My aim is to educate and inform anyone interested in Michigan wine so that they can maximize their enjoyment of the great offerings throughout the state. As an aspiring wine nerd, I hope to learn quite a bit as well while I research different topics and talk to people within the industry.
As this site grows, I hope you’re able to learn more about what Michigan has to offer so that you’re always able to find the tasty fresh coast wine you’re seeking.