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Kirk Heinze and Robin Usborne

Wine that not only pleases the palate, but boosts Michiganís economy

Robin Usborne talks with Kirk Heinze

By Caitlin Cox

Viticulturist Robin Usborne offers techniques for growing robust wine-ready grapes and picking out the right Michigan wine to pair with holiday meals.

Growing up on a farm and working in agriculture and natural resources since college provided the knowledge and networks that enabled Usborne to pursue her dream of starting her own vineyard.

“While I was working at MSU, I took classes toward a certificate in viticulture and enology and realized that this was not only a business, but a family of folks who care about the future of the wine industry,” says Usborne.

After completing the classes, Usborne found affordable land near Benzie County, Michigan and, after years of preparing the land, started growing grapes in her vineyard.  But Usborne also had a solid business plan to accompany her passion for growing grapes.  Before she planted her first vine, she had established a buyer for her grapes — the Mackinaw Trail Winery in Manistique, Mackinaw City and Petoskey. After four years of nurturing her grapes to maturation, she sold her first harvest this past fall.

“Wineries in Michigan are always in search of more Michigan grown fruit to produce their wines,” says Usborne.  “There’s quite a need for more grapes in Michigan.”

According to Michigan Grape and Wine Industry, there are 89 wineries in the state. Eight of those have started in the past year and, of those eight, there are six in northwest Michigan.

“You wouldn’t think that the wine industry is growing quickly throughout the state, but it’s getting bigger and helping Michigan’s economy,” says Usborne.

Also helping the economy is the number of exquisite Michigan wines available to pair with holiday feasts. Usborne recommends crisp wines such as dry riesling, pinot noir and gewürztraminer with lighter meats, and sweeter wines such as late-harvest wines with deserts. Another treat during the holidays is ice wine, which is made from grapes left on the vines until frozen by first frost.   A bit more expensive, but delightful, especially when paired with a light desert, says Usborne. 

Blended wines are also beneficial for people who are not as experienced with wine and want a wine that combines various grapes. Also, experiencing Michigan wineries’ tasting rooms is another way for people to determine which wines work best for their holiday feast.

“Go into any tasting room and not only will they be happy to have you taste wines to figure out which wine best fits your taste, but you’ll also get to tour the uniqueness and beauty of a Michigan winery.”

Greening of the Great Lakes airs every Sunday at 7 p.m. on News/Talk 760 WJR and around the state each weekend on the Michigan Talk Network.  Please follow us on Twitter.


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