Grand Traverse region’s wine grape production significantly down in 2014

The 2014 wine grape crop is short, but wineries will still have a good inventory on hand for the coming sales year.

It is going to be a very different sort of harvest season for Michigan grape growers and in particular, for the Grand Traverse region’s grape growers this year. This is due to the extreme cold weather of last winter and the cool and wet growing season that followed. Thanks to the now infamous Polar Vortex, many European grape varieties grown in the area were severely injured. These include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and many more popular vinifera varieties. These are typically marketed as “varietal” wines, with the variety name emphasized on the labels. At the very best, some of these may produce about a third of a normal crop, but there is almost no crop to be harvested in many vineyards.

Fortunately, the growers in our area also grow a large quantity of hybrid grape varieties, which generally fared much better this year. The hybrids typically have some North American parentage in their breeding lines, which imparts far better tolerance to winter temperatures. The variety names are not well known to the average wine consumer – Vignoles, Seyval, Traminette and Baco Noir to name a few. These varieties are used to make very good “generic” wines, not sold under the specific variety name. These are popular with consumers and very important to the production, sales and cash flow of our wineries. Many of these are carrying a full crop this year. (See “Cold hardy grape wines: They tried it, and liked it!” by Michigan State University Extension.)

Wine consumers will not see an immediate impact on the availability of wines at the tasting rooms or other retail outlets as there is a significant lag time between the harvest of grapes and the final release of wines on the market. It takes close to a year to complete the processing of white wines; the ample 2013 white grape crop is currently being marketed and there is no shortage of inventory. Red wines may take several years after harvest to come to the market, so their inventory is also good for our local producers.

The short 2014 crop will likely be felt as a reduction in the European varietal white wine inventory in 2015 and a shortage of European varietal red wines in the 2016-2017 sales years. The production and inventory of generic white and red wines is not expected to be negatively impacted. The region’s wine industry will “weather the storm,” and keep offering excellent wines to satisfy fine wine enthusiasts.