Michigan selected to host wine conference and symposium

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Michigan wine vineyard (view larger image)

Traverse City, Mich.—Wine and grape experts will soon converge on the 45th parallel to discuss their craft. No, they won’t be touring centuries-old vineyards in France, home to the “wine capital of the world”—they’ll be in Michigan, one of the emerging areas of wine production.

The 37th Annual American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) Eastern Section Conference will take place July 16-19 in Traverse City. The northern Michigan city shares the same latitudinal location as Bordeaux, France, but nowhere near the lengthy wine heritage.

“Considering that Michigan has been in the commercial wine grape production business for less than 50 years, [the first American viticultural area in Fennville was established in 1981] our producers have really come a long way in a relatively short time,” said Michigan State University (MSU) AgBioResearch viticulturist Paolo Sabbatini. “Hosting this event will help showcase the contribution that Michigan is beginning to make to the U.S. wine and grape industry.”

Organizers expect more than 100 researchers, professors, Extension agents, students, grape growers and enologists (those studying winemaking) to attend. It marks the second time that the conference will take place in Michigan; the first time was in 1998 in Grand Rapids.

The growth in Michigan winemaking is becoming quite apparent. Today there are more than 90 Michigan wineries compared to 50 six years ago, Sabbatini said. 

“An 80 percent growth during one of the most difficult economic times tells you a lot about the shining U.S. grape and wine industry, which has been steadily growing for the past 20 years,” said Sabbatini, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Horticulture. “There is now a wine industry in each of the 50 continental U.S. states. You can drive east, west, north or south and buy a bottle of locally produced wine in every state while admiring beautiful vineyards along the way.”

Michigan began growing commercial white vinifera wine grapes, mainly Reisling, in the 1970s and didn’t start producing wines with red vinifera grapes until the 1990s, Sabbatini said.

“It’s exciting to see our wines being recognized at national and international competitions and to see the steady increase of fruit quality at harvest for our signature grape varieties, especially since it’s such a new industry for us,” he said.

An international symposium on sparkling wine production is slated for the final day of the conference. Sabbatini and several other industry leaders chose this topic because Michigan has ideal growing conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two of the most popular varieties used for sparkling wines.

“The climate in Michigan is similar to that in many regions in France, including Champagne,” Sabbatini said. “Michigan producers craft their wines using all of the renowned processes in the world. These techniques, combined with ideal growing conditions, state-of-the-art technology and vineyard production advancements, are resulting in an extremely viable, innovative industry for the state.”  

The conference will feature two keynote speakers: Alain Carbonneau, professor of viticulture at Montpellier SupAgro in France; and Nick Dokoozlian, vice president of viticulture, chemistry and enology for E&J Gallo in California. They will discuss vineyard management practices that affect grape quality. 

The scheduled presentations are:

  • Canopy management for cool climates and sparkling wine production”—Alain Carboneau, professor of viticulture at Montpelier SupAgro in Montpelier, France; and François Langellier, engineer at the Interprofessional Committee of ‘Vin de Champagne’in Région de Reims, France. 
  • Sparkling wine production in the Pacific Northwest”—Russell Smithyman, director of viticulture for Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.
  • New perspectives on the impact of vine balance on grape and wine flavor development”—Nick Dokoozlian, vice president of viticulture, chemistry and enology for E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto, Calif.
  • Winemaking processes to meet your sparkling  goals”—David Munksgard, winemaker for Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol, Calif. and Larry Mawby, president of L. Mawby in Suttons Bay, Mich.
  • English sparkling wine research and press fraction composition of sparkling must and base wine”—Belinda Kemp, wine lecturer and research coordinator for Plumpton College Wine Centre in East Sussex, England. 
  • Tasting: Sparkling evaluation of base wines, with and without dosage, and finished products”—David Munksgard, winemaker for Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol, Calif. and Larry Mawby, president of L. Mawby in Suttons Bay, Mich.

Sabbatini said that many of the speakers are internationally recognized and will provide a great deal of insight into wine and grape production. The conference will be held at Northwestern Michigan College. For further information, visitwww.asev-es.org.

MSU research helps to address various wine grape issues including vineyard management, pest management and identification of areas of the state best suited for future wine grape production. According to the Michigan Wine and Grape Council, the Michigan wine industry generates more than $300 million per year.

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