By Ian Richardson
Sun contributor
I think Michigan wines have gotten a bad rap. Often I hear “That’s a pretty good Michigan wine” or I am asked, “How do Michigan wines compare to those from California?” and I wonder, “How does an apple compare to a banana?” To compare Michigan wines to California wines makes no sense.

First of all California has a long growing season and a mild, steady climate that varies little from year to year, so even in a poor vintage year they can still produce good wines. It would be more fitting to compare Michigan wines to the wines of Germany or France that grow along the 45th parallel. These are the places with which Michigan has the most in common.
Another consideration is that the Michigan wine industry is still quite young, with most of the growth happening in the last 10 years. Compare these wines to the California wines of 15 or 20 years ago and you are closer to understanding where we are. Wine age is another factor. The best wine comes from old vines, and many Michigan wineries are using very young fruit.
The Michigan wine industry is experiencing an exciting period. More wineries pop up every year, it seems. We now have 12 wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula, and the number of wine grape-producing vines is even increasing. Along with the growth comes monetary investment, and a lot of newer wineries are producing very good wines in a short period, causing some older and more established wineries to step up quality and not rest on their laurels.
While Michigan’s climate limits what we can produce in the way of wines. There are some great examples of these styles. Our short growing season favors white wines such as Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio. Reds require a long, warm growing season to fully ripen the grapes, so if you are looking for a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, best look somewhere else. However, pinot Noir, Cabernet franc, and merlot can be found although some can be pricey since production is small and most go into blends.
Go and visit one of the many tasting rooms around the area and discover some of the hidden treasures that abound in the Michigan wine industry. In equal fairness to all the local wineries, I am not going to single out any in this issue.
Ian Richardson is the owner, proprietor and wine extraordinaire of J&I Wine Shop, on Lake Street in Glen Arbor.