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Number of state wineries increase, some head for China

By Edith Zhou
Capital News Service

Michigan wine

Michigan wine

LANSING — According to Bush, the state has more than 150 wineries with more than 100 of them using home-grown fruits. And half are located along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Traverse City to Southwest Michigan.

Bush said both the quality and the quantity of this year’s wine is very good.

“The warm weather gives the fruit a higher sugar content and the harvest came earlier and larger at the end of the season,” she said.

Based on figures from the council, Michigan is among the top three states in cherry wine production and its annual grape wine production ranks around 10th in the nation.

Jamie Zmitko-Somers, international marketing manager of the  Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, recently visited China with Gov. Rick Snyder and the director of the department to explore more business cooperation.

“There are big demands for wine in major cities there and we found that there may be potential opportunities for our Michigan wine. We already have a winery that is exporting their white wine to China and we are looking for opportunities to promote our sweeter fruit wines to China or other Asian countries,” she said.

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery in Traverse City is the only winery that is exporting wine. It has the ability to produce 110,000 cases per year.

According to Edward O’Keefe III, president of the winery, his company started to export to Japan in the 1990s, and recently began working with a trade company in Shanghai to sell its products in China.

O’Keefe said it’s interesting that the late harvest riesling is the best seller in both the United States and China. “And we also sent several other kinds of white wine and fruit wine to China for the market test.”

O’Keefe said his company sells 500 cases to China each year, which is not a significant amount compared to the size of his business, but he sees future opportunities.

“Wine is a unique product — everyone around the world can understand it and love it,” he said.

The department recently held a seminar explaining the requirements for exporting wine internationally. Several companies and wineries attended.

“There are some federal requirements and paperwork to do, but as long as we have wineries exporting, we know it’s manageable,” Zmitko-Somers said.

Bush said the biggest challenge of wine exporting is the size of the wineries.

“Most of the wineries in our state are family-owned, but only a handful of them have the production ability to export wine,” she said.

Bob Jacobson, the president of Leelanau Cellars Winery in Omena, said his company has no plan to export wine, despite being large enough to consider it.

The winery has about 90 acres of vineyards along  Grand Traverse Bay and produces more than 133,000 cases annually. Besides Michigan, it sells wine to other states such as Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

“We haven’t started exploring the international market. There may be some other paperwork to do if you want to export to other countries. Our next step is to extend our market to other states,” Jacobson said.

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