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Wednesday, 06 May 2015 08:56

One of my most-asked questions goes along the lines of, "Does Michigan make any high-quality organic wine?"

The negative reply -- "It doesn't really work here" -- always rings hollow to my ears, halfway between rationalization and obfuscation. Especially when it elicits a comment along the lines of, "Gee, I can buy organic wines from California and France. Why not Michigan?"

Finally, in an otherwise muddled article, I found the perfect, three paragraph explanation. It's from a viticultural pro at Cornell University, so his frame of reference is New York. But it applies equally well to Michigan. I plan to commit it to memory.

“The most sustainable, responsible practices are different from state to state and even from region to region within a state,” Tim Martinson, Cornell University’s statewide viticulture extension educator, says. “If you want to put ‘organic’ on your label as a winemaker, there are a certain set of standards set by the USDA that you must follow. There are a list of approved organic insecticides that you can use, but because of differences in climate, what works in one region most certainly does not work in another.”

In California, it’s much easier to grow organic grapes than other regions in the country, especially east of the Rockies, Mr. Martinson says.

“In New York the weather works against us and we have black rot and downy mildew, the Achilles heel of growing organically,” Mr. Martinson says. “There’s no way to combat it naturally. Even if you go out and spray copper on each leaf individually, you may still get it. Organic growers here have to go out and examine every leaf and hand-pick any diseased leaf off before it spreads.”

Q.E.D.

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KIM'S SECRET STASH

Recently-deceased Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was a wine geek (and reputed alcoholic) with a 10,000-bottle cellar, according to ex-Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger. Kim earlier gave up Hennessy Cognac on doctor's orders.