Karel Bush, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council

Karel Bush

A new vineyard or winery seems to pop up in Michigan every month. That’s actually not far from the truth, according to the results of a new economic impact study commissioned by the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council (MGWIC).

The data shows that since 2005, the number of wineries that use Michigan grapes or other fruit for most of their production has jumped from 42 in 2005 to 132 in 2017.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, according to Karel Bush, executive director of the MGWIC.

“To me, the biggest highlight from the 2017 study is the total economic impact,” she said, noting that it represents an 18-fold increase.

As reported, the total economic impact in 2017 includes about $90 million in direct wages paid to nearly 2,000 winery and vineyard employees; more than $680 million in additional direct wages paid to retail, tourism and other employees; and more than $426 million paid in state and local taxes.

Although the data in the new report revealed a very sharp rise in Michigan’s wine and grape industry, it didn’t surprise Bush.

“We knew the growth of the industry has been pretty steep since our last study 12 years ago: A lot more wineries have come on; more vineyards have been planted; and winery tourism has picked up partly because of an increase in awareness and interest in Michigan wine, but also because the whole ‘Pure Michigan’ (statewide promotional) campaign is bringing tourists from within the state and from outside of the state to appreciate some of the treasures we have in the state, including the wineries.”

She notes that cideries, which are included as wineries in the study, have become more prominent too.

“We have a handful of cideries that have been around for a long time, but in the last five years — right along with the craft beer growth — there’s a market that is embracing hard cider as their chosen beverage, and that’s prompting new cideries,” she said. “And since we grow a lot of apples here, it’s a perfect fit.”

The full “2017 Economic Impact Study of the Michigan Wine Industry” is available at bit.ly/Michigan-wine-impact

While the rise of the wine and grape industry has primarily occurred along the western side of the Lower Peninsula, other regions are now seeing notable growth, Bush said.

“The tip of the Lower Peninsula has a growing region that was just approved last year as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) for use on their labels. That makes them the fifth AVA in the state, so that area is definitely expanding as new vineyards there are beginning to come into production.” Numerous wineries are opening in other off-the-beaten-path regions as well, she said. “In fact, there’s one called End of the Road Winery in the Upper Peninsula, and it really is,” she said with a laugh. “But they’re actually doing a great business.”

In commissioning the impact study, which piggybacks on a broader national survey simultaneously conducted by John Dunham & Associates for WineAmerica, the MGWIC sought data by county and by legislative district.

According to Bush, the idea was that existing wineries and vineyards, as well as new ventures, could incorporate the data into business plans to assist with obtaining a loan from a lending organization or approval from a local government body, or possibly to help with a grant application.

“We are already finding that it has been beneficial, especially when someone is seeking approval for a winery or vineyard in an area where there hasn’t been one before,” she said.

In all, the study cost $45,000 and the MGWIC paid for it with council funding, which arises from non-retail and non-wholesale liquor license fees.

“It was quite a chunk out of our total budget because we provide a lot of different services to the industry,” Bush said. “But given the amount of information and the value this is going to provide, we think it was well worth the price.” •

by Leslie Mertz