Glass half empty: Harsh winters hit MI wineries

A snow-covered Fenn Valley Vineyard. (Feb. 5, 2015)

FENNVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Two back-to-back brutally cold winters have been hard on local wineries. Many vineyards have reported losses of grapes due to the cold, especially up north.

Just a few years ago, Michigan was coming off of record grape crop. This helped keep reserve tanks very full and the Michigan wine industry flowing through the brutally cold winter of 2014.

According to the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, 2014 was such a harsh year that $3.5 million in farmgate value was lost. “Farmgate” is the price of goods — in this case grapes — purchased directly from a farm. The only recent years with losses this proportionally bad were back in 1993 and 1994.

The same council estimates that the losses for 2015 are likely going to be just as high.

“When it happens two years in a row that’s fairly devastating for a lot of wineries in this area, and more specifically up north,” said Fenn Valley Vineyard manager Todd Robins.

Robins says the harshness of the winter on vineyards is completely dependent on the type of grapes that are grown.

Some delicate grapes, which are “cold tender”, won’t survive. Others that are “cold hardy” will make it through tough seasons while still tasting great. Robins says they have 19 different kinds of grapes at Fenn Valley. Aside from wanting to offer a variety of flavors, wineries do this is to ensure they always have wine, no matter the weather.

Still, you may notice your favorite Michigan wine may be off the shelves for a while.

“We have had two consecutive years with no [Sauvignon blanc] crop. So that means the Sauvignon blanc that is on the shelf right now when its done, we won’t have Sauvignon blanc until hopefully 2017,” Robins said.

Robins says wineries that were hit the hardest are finding ways to adapt until the weather cooperates.

“They are getting innovative about what they are doing. They are making more cider. They are making more fruit wines. They are getting creative. I think they are also learning a lesson in that they are planting more cold hardy varieties for the future,” Robins said.

Staff from the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council says the wine going on the shelves this year is from 2011 to 2013, and there is still plenty of wine for locals and visitors to enjoy this season.

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