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(August 8, 2013) A national wine consumer group has slapped Michigan with a grade of "D" for the consumer-friendliness of state laws that reguate the sale and consumption of wine.

In a study released yesterday, The American Wine Consumer Coalition ranked Michigan 35th out of 51 states (including the District of Columbia).

American Wine Consumer CoalitionThe AWCC downgraded Michigan for laws that prohibit retailers from shipping wine to consumers, and prohibit restaurants from letting patrons carry in their own wines, with or without a corkage fee.

Michigan's "ban on allowing consumers to have wine shipped to them from wine retailers severely limits consumers’ access to imported wines, hard to find wines and out of vintage wines," the AWCC report said.

The study evaluated each state's regulations for consumer-friendliness in six areas, listed in decreasing order of importance:

  • Ability to have wine shipped to their home from any winery
  • No State monopoly on the sale of wine
  • Ability to have wine shipped to their home from any wine retailer
  • Ability to purchase wine on Sundays
  • Ability to bring their own wine into a restaurant to drink with their meal
  • Ability to purchase wine in grocery stores

Weighting of the six areas was based on a 2011 survey of 1000 wine consumers.

“Eighty years after the end of Prohibition, consumers in numerous states still live under archaic laws that disregard their interests,” said David White, president of the AWCC. “These laws harm consumers and enrich special-interest groups."

“Fortunately, there are several states—those that received an A+—where consumers can conveniently access the wines they want. These states can and should serve as examples for those that are failing, said White.”

Wine-producing states California, Oregon and Virginia tied for top "A+" scores in the AWCC ranking. Others with "A" grades were Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska New Hampshire, Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia.

Utah, where the state controls wine distribution and prohibits sales on Sunday, was rated as the least wine-friendly state.

The entire report is available on the AWCC website.


Booming demand and harvest shortfalls
push northern wineries to out-of-state suppliers

Bowers Harbor 2010 Pinot Gris

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 Estate Harvest Celebration: Attendance up 67%
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."

The result?

"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."


Dan Berger, of Santa Rosa, California, is one of America's leading independent wine journalists. Head of California's Riverside International Wine Competiton and prime mover behind the Riesling Sweetness scale, he publishes the weekly Vintage Experiences newsletter.

He wrote this piece for that newsletter after judging at the Michigan Wine Competition. It's a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how a well-informed, objective outsider views Michigan wines and their position in the larger wine world. Reprinted by permission; the original can be viewed here. --JG

by Dan Berger

Dan BergerLANSING, Mich.--A lot can go through your mind when you’re judging regional wines, as I did this past Monday here. 

The Michigan Wine and Spirits competition has been staged for decades, and only in the last few years has the event displayed the sort of quality about which the wine makers here have been crowing for decades. 

The early praise wasn’t unwarranted. There were flashes of brilliance as long ago as the late ’90s, when I first visited. Former colleague and long-time friend Christopher Cook exposed me to Michigan’s vinous hospitality back then and I saw huge potential.

Problem was that almost none of this was available to the American public. Bottles could all have been labeled “Sold in Michigan only,” a horrid situation that exists to this day, exacerbated by the state’s antediluvian shipping regulations. Even if you know about the superb Rieslings, Pinot Gris and other wines, you’d have to travel to Michigan to get them.

Even then, finding them here is well nigh impossible. Michiganders routinely disparage Michigan wine.


Editor's note: Kalamazoo's Fred McTaggart originally wrote this appreciation of Leelanau Peninsula winemaker Bernie Rink for his blog, Artisan Wine on a Budget. I thought it deserved a wider audience. Photo courtesy of Sharon Kegerreis, Michigan Vine   -- JG

by Fred McTaggart

Little has changed since I last visited the Boskydel Vineyards tasting room. But that was 1984, and much has changed in Leelanau winemaking over the intervening 25 years.

Bernie Rink
Boskydel's Bernie Rink: Making Leelanau wine since 1975
Compared to the fancy, tourist-centered wineries just a few miles away, Boskydel comes across as quaint and rustic. It's a small room on the lower level of a white barn with a cement floor. A crude wooden counter holds eight bottles, open for tasting.

Owner and winemaker Bernie Rink, 83, is a bit stooped these days, and fights a tremor when he pours your samples. He is affectionately known as the "Wine Nazi" (after Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi") because he allows no nonsense on the premises. When more than eight people arrive in his tiny tasting room, he starts to shoo them away.


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Need to Know


Early results from an experiment by Chateau Margaux's Paul Pontallier indicate that screwcaps may age red wine better than natural cork -- plus eliminate any risk of corked bottles, as reported in The Drinks Business. 


The 2011-2 mild weather was healthy for Michigan's vineyards, but it's played havoc with state winemakers who leave grapes on the vine in hopes that they'll freeze for the production of icewine, reports AP writer John Flesher.


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.


Warming climate may help cooler grape-growing regions -- like England -- but could damage places like Napa, writes jounalist John McQuaid in Yale's environmental magazine.


Western Farm Press reports that Cornell Prof Miguel Gomez is studying how smaller wineries can jointly create a successful cool-climate wine region. He'll look at emerging areas in Michigan, New York and Missouri.


Here's one for some Michigan entrepreneur to try! A just-opened Long Island outlet mall store will sell nothing but New York State wines. Starting inventory at Empire State Cellars: 400 labels from 150 wineries.


Want a refresher about Michigan wine history and potential? Get a quick two page cheat-sheet by Layne Cameron in Western Farm Press, and make some allowances for the MSU-centricity (the author's employer).

Links to wine news from Michigan and elsewhere. Use the Contact Form to let us know what should be here.


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.

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