Oct 9, 2017MSU programs helps Michigan grow to more than 100 wineries
A Michigan State University program, whose seeds were planted almost 50 years ago, has helped shape winemakers who are making their mark at universities and vineyards across the country, and have a shaped a Michigan wine industry that continues to grow.
According to a story in Crain’s Detroit Business, the university’s enology and viticulture programs – and the associated Spartan Cellars winery – have helped the state go from seven wineries in 1970 to more than 100 today.
It also helped transform the wine itself from primarily sweet wines grown with American grapes to European-style cabernets and Merlots that compete with highly regarded wines from California and around the world.
According to Crain’s:
“Innovative ideas are often met with skepticism and concern.
When Professor Stan Howell approached administrators at MSU in 1970 about the science of studying wine grapes, the response wasn’t enthusiastic.
“Nobody wanted to work with the wine industry,” said Howell, who retired in 2006. “It was considered professional suicide.”
In 1970, the Michigan grape growing industry was 95 percent Concord, Niagara and Delaware grapes, used to make sweet wines.
At that time, Bronte Winery winemaker Angelo Spinazze raised an important question.
“Michigan State is dedicated to agriculture, why can’t MSU do something to help the wine industry?”
When the late Lawrence Boger, dean of the College Agriculture and Natural Resources, gave approval in 1970, the vineyards were planted. Equally critical to progress was Paw Paw’s Warner Vineyards, one of the state’s oldest and still in operation today, making a $15,000 contribution.
“The money convinced others in the industry and people at MSU that we were serious about our efforts,” said Howell. “At that time, the perceived important big tree fruits were: apples, sour cherries, peaches and plums. Grapes were not considered a major crop.”
In the mid-1970s, former state Sen. Bob Wellborn raised $50,000 for research at MSU. In 1985, Michigan’s Grape and Wine Industry Council was founded and provided $350,000 support for research, education and promotion at MSU.
The experimental vineyards near the university’s East Lansing campus were invaluable. MSU’s Spartan Cellars was where they turned grapes into wine starting in 1970. (You can’t buy bottles of Spartan Cellars wine — they’re for research purposes only.)”