State prime to expand grape production

During the fall in southwest Michigan, the air in the vineyards is fragrant with the aroma of ripening grapes. The southwest part of the state is home to most of the juice grape acreage in the state — 12,000-plus acres. Native varieties of grapes used primarily for juice and jelly, such as Concord and Niagara, have been grown commercially in Michigan for more than a 100 years.

The majority of these grapes are grown under contract to Welch’s, owned by the National Grape Cooperative, which operates a juice processing facility in Lawton.

A growing number of vineyards are producing winegrapes. Winegrape acreage in Michigan is concentrated in four counties close to the Great Lakes — Berrien, Van Buren, Leelanau and Grand Traverse, although there are vineyards in other parts of the state, including the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan is home to more than 80 wineries. The acreage planted to winegrapes is nearly 3,000 acres. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council set a goal to increase the acreage planted to winegrapes to 10,000 acres by 2024.

Key Points

MSU Product Center can help develop new businesses, products and ideas.

Goal is to increase the acreage planted to winegrapes to 10,000 acres by 2024.

The grapes.msu.edu website provides information related to viticulture practices.


With substantial acreage of juice grapes, and an increasing interest in winegrapes and wine production, there is a need for continuing education for growers and winemakers, training to provide future workers, and research to improve quality and production. The industry has access to resources to help fill these needs.

Resources available

Grape growers and prospective winery owners have access to the Michigan State University Product Center and counselors to help them develop new businesses, products and ideas.

Duke Elsner and I as MSU Extension educators participate with campus specialists to offer in-season grower meetings. Recent meetings covered a field demonstration of a shoot positioner, canopy management and grape production in cool climates.

Every summer, Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center holds a viticulture field day, co-sponsored with the Michigan Grape Society. A wine evaluation workshop featuring Southwest Michigan wines is each February at SWMREC.

Enology education workshops are held by Paul Jenkins, MSU’s grape and wine integrator, several times during the years. One of this year’s offerings was a short course on the production of aromatic white wines.

Grape-related publications at the MSU Extension Bookstore include a pocket scouting guide for insects and diseases, vineyard establishment and grape variety selection bulletins and CDs, and the “Michigan Fruit Management Guide.”

The Enviroweather network and website offers weather information and predictive models for grape insects and diseases. The grapes.msu.edu website provides information related to viticulture practices and a grape e-newsletter that delivers timely pest management updates for growers during the season.

In the winter, MSU Extension partners with state and regional organizations to present the Great Lakes Expo, Southwest Hort Days, and the Northwest Michigan Orchard and Vineyard Show.

MSU’s Institute for Agricultural Technology has partnered with Lake Michigan College, Northwestern Michigan College, and the Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance program to offer a viticulture certificate program to train individuals on the principles of viticulture and enology. The two-year course of study includes industry internships and an opportunity for apprenticeships to gain additional accreditation.

The Michigan grape industry is fortunate to have research support and funding from two major industry partners, the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, and the National Grape Cooperative, as well as a dynamic team of MSU researchers to collaborate on statewide projects.

Research focus

Current research includes:

State research and Extension viticulturist Paolo Sabbatini, in the Department of Horticulture, is the Michigan representative for a grape variety trial held in 23 states. Michigan is evaluating 49 commercially important winegrape cultivars from cool-climate regions in other countries.

Annemiek Schilder, Department of Plant Pathology, is working on a survey of Michigan vineyards for virus diseases.

Rufus Isaacs, Department of Entomology, helped develop an online predictive model for grape berry moth emergence in Michigan that allows growers to accurately time insecticide applications.

Tom Zabadal, SWMREC coordinator, horticultural specialist in grapes and a faculty member in the Department of Horticulture, is involved with a vineyard of the future project that will completely mechanize grape production.

John Wise, Department of Entomology and coordinator of Trevor Nichols Research Complex, evaluated new vineyard spray chemistries and rainfastness of pesticides used on grapes.

Brown is the commercial horticulture educator for MSU Extension in Berrien County.

This article published in the November, 2011 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.