Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 8, 2013

Growing grapes, learning the biz

TRAVERSE CITY — Sherman Atkinson is working toward a dream: his son Patrick’s dream.

“My son works for Boeing out on the west coast and he went to Viticulture School at the University of California-Davis at night and on weekends,” Atkinson said. “His dream is to have a vineyard.”

Michigan is attracting others who share that same dream, as news spreads about the success of the state’s wine industry. Wine grape acreage doubled over the past decade, according to a recent USDA report, making Michigan the fifth-largest wine grape producer in the nation.

Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council members anticipate growth to continue. About 2,650 acres were devoted to wine grapes in 2011 and that number is expected to reach 10,000 acres by 2024.

The expanding industry created demand for education about wine grapes. In response, Michigan State University Extension will host a Wine Grape Vineyard Establishment Conference on Jan. 21-22, 2014 at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station.

“We know that wine grape growing is a high investment business,” said Erwin “Duke” Elsner, a small fruit educator with MSU Extension. “This is not a simple matter. It takes a high commitment in time and dollars. People need to understand what they’re getting into.”

Elsner said the conference is designed for newcomers to the grape and wine industry. Basic topics include site selection and preparation, establishment costs, planting stock, trellis construction and pest management. The conference will be held concurrently in Traverse City, Benton Harbor and Novi, with speakers connecting in a webinar format. Some speakers will be at each site for personal interaction with participants.

“We’ll also be discussing non-traditional varieties, such as super cold-hardy grapes, and we’ll have Black Star Farms winemaker Lee Lutes discussing marketing options. We’ll have some wine tasting, too, because we feel that’s important,” said Elsner.

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