Dec 12, 2022
Reinke eases into role as Michigan grape specialist

Michael Reinke has been working with grape growers in some capacity for 22 years, from invasive insect management in California table grapes to mating disruption and trapping of grape berry moth, to developing new products for management and control of insects in grapes in other parts of the world.

So it’s logical that Reinke is now working with Michigan grape growers on all aspects of viticulture.

Reinke was recently named viticulture specialist for Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, based in Benton Harbor.

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Reinke’s initial agriculture-related position was with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in California, working on insect-mediated virus transmission in citrus.

“This was over 20 years ago,” he said. “That position prepared me for a transition to a different position in Bakersfield, California, working on management of glassy-winged sharpshooter in grapes and citrus.”

Using Surround as a non-toxic control strategy was a focus of Reinke’s work, but he also participated in developing a more effective trap for monitoring the populations.

“I left the USDA to do entomology (chemical ecology), working on developing novel trap designs to improve moth catch in Michigan fruit crops and understanding the mechanisms behind mating disruption,” he said.

That effort led to positions at several different pheromone and trap manufacturers in research and development, technical representative and head of production.

“That work was diverse, with global customers where I worked in insect management in many fruit and vegetable crops, including grapes,” he said.

Reinke started with MSU Extension as an integrated pest management specialist for all fruits and vegetables.

“From the beginning, I found the grape growers to be the most welcoming and engaging community,” he said. “As I have worked with them I have come to see the strengths of Michigan viticulture as well as some great opportunities for growth. The community-wide interest in advancing the industry and willingness to try new ideas makes me really excited to be a part of the grape-growing culture of Michigan.”

Reinke credited a number of positive career influencers.

“I keep thinking about all my previous advisors, bosses and supervisors. Some of them have been very influential for teaching me how not to do things,” he said.

“If I picked the people most influential for teaching me the right ways to do things, they would all ironically come from right here in Michigan,” he said. “Larry Gut and James Miller were my major advisors for my doctorate. They taught me that curiosity, passion, and excitement are integral to both effective education and the advancement of knowledge. Mark Longstroth and Bill Shane have equally effectively shown me many of the skills necessary to connect with the local grower communities and become an effective educator and extension person for them. 

A growing presence 

While his primary duties are to the grape producers of southwest Michigan, Reinke has witnessed new growers “cropping up in some non-traditional places. We have growers in southeast Michigan, west central Michigan. There are even a few people that are starting to do hybrid production in the middle of the state.

“Each of these regions has its own challenges from weather and soils to sales and marketing opportunities of finished products. My challenge will be to identify those unique characteristics and assist them as honestly and accurately as I can.” 

Reinke said the viticulture industry in Michigan is healthy.

“The juice grape portion is seeing good prices for their grapes and Welch’s (which has been owned by the National Grape Cooperative Association, a co-op of grape growers, since 1956) is having good sales of finished goods. Winegrape acreage is increasing. We are producing better wine now that at any point in our history and the Great Lakes region and beyond are becoming increasingly aware of it,” he said.

“We are transitioning from an industry for local sales to one that is competing (and winning) on the national and international stages,” Reinke said. “One of the challenges with that, however, is that we have built regional communities within Michigan that compete with each other. By eschewing these divides and building a larger Michigan identity our wine will improve even more, we will attract more great talent, and our visibility and reputation on the national and international stages will continue to increase.”

Where it’s headed

Reinke reflected on what Michigan’s viticulture sector will look like in 15-20 years.

“I see a successful industry that is larger and more connected than today,” he said. “The juice acreage will be consolidated into fewer owners, but they will on average be younger and more interested in more technologically advanced management practices.

Reinke said the state’s winegrape industry will be less concentrated in the main regions and will consist of a higher diversity of owner types. And it will, on average, be making even better wine than it is today.

“To the tourists, the vineyards will not look much different than they do now, but the way we manage them will have advanced,” he said. “In-field horticultural monitoring, autonomy and precision management are advancing quickly. These advanced tools will provide the capabilities to produce better grapes more sustainably, but also afford us the opportunities to reincorporate techniques from the past in more profitable and productive ways.

“I have enjoyed my time so far with MSUE,” Reinke said. “This position anchors me even further within MSUE and the grower community in southwest Michigan. I hope to be in this position in 15-20 years to look back on this conversation and see how it compares to how the two decades really unfold.”

— Gary Pullano, FGN Senior Correspondent

Photo: Michael Reinke is the new viticulture specialist for Michigan State University Extension. He is based in Benton Harbor. Photo: Gary Pullano

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