Mich. Wine Producers Seek More Land

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 19, 2007; 2:48 AM

COLOMA TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Entering the southwestern tip of Michigan, travelers might feel they've ventured into California's Napa Valley or the Tuscany region of Italy.

Rows of grapevines and fruit trees rise and fall with the gently rolling hills of northern Berrien County and western Van Buren County.

About 1,500 acres in the state are devoted to wine grapes. Michigan ranks eighth among states that produce wine grapes.

The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council wants to increase wine-grape production to 10,000 acres by 2024 _ an expansion it hopes will provide a bit of a boost to the state's sluggish economy.

Last year, the state handed out more than $265,000 in grants as incentives to expansion-minded growers and winery owners. Some of the money was spent on new equipment, such as machines that prune vines. One grant went toward the development of a premium vodka distilled from grapes.

Joe Herman, co-owner of Karma Vista Vineyards and Winery, added seven new acres of wine grapes in May, expanding the vineyard to 50 acres. He also is preparing to help others interested in getting involved in wine production.

He and Dave Miller, a winemaker at St. Julian Winery, are using one of the state grants to start a consulting and management firm. They will advise clients on choosing property for vineyards, planting vines and building wineries, and will offer to manage the new operations.

Herman says he backs the council's plans for growing the industry but cautions that similar efforts have backfired in such places as Australia because demand for their wines was overestimated.

"There's this huge potential (for success) but there's also this potential to overdo it," says Herman, 52, a lifelong farmer. "Can we sell that much? That will be the key."

At his winery about 75 miles east of Chicago, he not only sells his wines _ varieties include Cha Cha Chardonnay, Starry Starry White and Stone Temple Pinot _ but also wine glasses, corkscrews, T-shirts and other items.

Michigan's wine industry has been growing steadily since the mid-1970s, says Linda Jones, executive director of the council, which was created in 1985 to promote the industry.

Choosing their sites carefully and aided by Michigan State University researchers, growers started planting the traditional European varieties of grapes used in nearly all the world's wines. Several varieties thrived, including Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Merlot.

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