Booming demand and harvest shortfalls
push northern wineries to out-of-state suppliers
by Joel Goldberg
Spot the difference between those two bottles?
Both are 2010 Pinot Grigio, sold by Bowers Harbor Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula. The label on the left affirms that most of the grapes grew in "Michigan, USA".
The bottle on the right carries no geographic designation. But it's made from grapes that grew in Washington State, according to a winery employee.
This isn't something Michigan winery owners or winemakers are eager to discuss. Most of them built reputations on a commitment to locally-sourced grapes, frequently grown in their own vineyards. But sharply rising customer demand and shaky weather that's hammered yields for two straight vintages have forced some northern Michigan wineries to adjust their business strategy, at least short-term.
The adjustment: they're now buying out-of-state grapes, juice and pre-made wines to augment shrunken in-state supplies.
Brys Harvest Celebration: Attendance up 67%
At Old Mission's Brys Estate, long a strong proponent of estate-grown wines, operations manager Patrick Brys lays out the stark facts.
"We had two bad years back-to-back, 2009 and 2010," Brys said. "In 2010, the grapes were wonderful but the crop was down 40% because of a frost on Mother's Day."
An unusually cool summer the preceding year, in 2009, forced growers to reduce yields and left many wineries unable to ripen grapes sufficiently to make satisfactory wine, especially the later-harvested red varietals.
But if crop yields are down, demand is up -- way up. On Saturday, October 8, over 1000 tasters jammed Brys Estate for its annual Harvest Celebration, a 67% increase from last year. Patrick Brys called it "our most successful day ever."
"Last winter, we closed the tasting room doors from December 1 to April 1, because we didn't have wine to sell," Brys said. "No business can continue to do that."