Eastern Wine Industry Meets in Michigan

ASEV's Eastern Section focuses on sparkling wine production

by Linda Jones McKee and Hudson Cattell
asev-es willow vineyard and winery
Willow Vineyard and Winery vineyard manager Craig Cunningham speaks to visitors during the annual meeting of ASEV's eastern section.
Traverse City, Mich.—Larry Mawby, owner of L. Mawby Vineyards-Winery in Suttons Bay, Mich., and self-proclaimed “local guy” on the program for the International Symposium on Sparkling Wine Production, welcomed attendees to “the heart of winemaking in North America” last week. While many in the wine industry may not realize there is a wine industry in Northern Michigan, from July 16-19 it could be argued that the center of the eastern wine industry was located in Traverse City, Mich.

For three days, researchers, students, winemakers and grapegrowers attended the 37th annual meeting of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture’s Eastern Section, and on July 19, the international symposium featured speakers from England, France, California, Washington and Michigan, who discussed various aspects of sparkling wine production.

On the first day of the conference, attendees had the opportunity to visit six wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula and witness first-hand how appropriate it was for the symposium three days later to focus on sparkling wine. Many of the varieties grown in the region are traditionally used for sparkling wine (Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir), and four of the six wineries visited made at least one sparkling wine. One of them, L. Mawby, has produced sparkling wines exclusively since 2000.

While Michigan is a cold-climate area for viticulture, vineyards on the Leelanau Peninsula are located in the driest county in Michigan, though it has the second highest amount of snowfall. During most winters, vineyards are protected by 2.5-3 feet of snow, which also accounts for most of a year’s moisture accumulation. As a result, growers do not have to hill up to protect their vines, and in the summer, which is warm and sunny, only three or four sprays are necessary to control disease rather than the 10-14 sprays needed in much of the eastern U.S. While the growing season is relatively short because Michigan is farther north, the amount of daylight helps increase the amount of available sunlight for the vines, aiding the grapes in ripening.

Speakers at the symposium included Dr. Nick Dokoozlian, vice president of viticulture, chemistry and enology at E. & J. Gallo Winery in Modesto, Calif., who spoke about the impact of vine balance on flavor development; Dr. Russell Smithyman, director of viticulture at Ste. Michelle Estates in Woodinville, Wash., who talked about sparkling wine production in the Pacific Northwest; and Alexandre Marcoult, enologist and director of laboratory at the Institut Oenologique de Champagne (IOC) in Reims, France, who described sparkling wine production in Champagne.

Dr. Belinda Kemp, wine lecturer and research coordinator at Plumpton College Wine Centre in East Sussex, England, whose topic was “English Sparkling Wine Research and Press Fraction Composition of Sparkling Must and Base Wine,” told Wines & Vines that most people don’t know anything about the English wine industry or the role of Plumpton College. “The English wine industry does make still wines,” she noted, “but most of our production is sparkling wine. I’m here to share the knowledge we’ve learned from Champagne, France, and to acknowledge the help we get from them.”

David Munksgard, winemaker at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol, Calif., and Larry Mawby teamed up to present a detailed session about winemaking processes to meet sparkling wine goals. As part of their presentation, they each poured samples of still wine, a wine that had been disgorged and then the finished sparkling wine. Munksgard, who was a winemaker in the Finger Lakes region of New York for seven years, said, “The eastern wine industry, because of its climate, has lots of places where you can make sparkling wines just as good or better than the traditional areas.”

Eastern Section awards and scholarships
Dr. G. Stanley Howell, professor emeritus of viticulture and enology at Michigan State University, received the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award at a banquet held July 18. During Howell’s 37-year career, which spanned from 1969 to 2006, he became recognized nationally and internationally as an expert in cold-climate viticulture and especially in cold hardiness and stress physiology. The Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Dr. James A. Wolpert, a former graduate student of Howell’s, who received his Ph.D. in 1983. Wolpert was recognized for his outstanding contributions to the viticulture and enology industry of California, Michigan and other winegrowing regions in eastern North America.

Eight $1,000 scholarships were awarded to students this year. The recipients, listed here with their institutions and major professors, were: Melissa Aellen, Cornell University (Kathy Arnink, undergraduate advisor); Christina Bavougian, University of Nebraska (Paul Read); Charles Frohman, Cornell University (Ramón Mira de Orduña); Cain Hickey, Virginia Tech (Tony Wolf); Lindsay Jordan, Cornell University (Justine Vanden Heuvel); Mark Nisbet, Cornell University (Anna-Katharine Mansfield); Jennifer Savits, Iowa State University (Cheryll Reitmeier); and Amanda Stewart, Purdue University (Christian Butzke).

The student paper competition had two winners, each of whom received $500. The award for the best paper in enology, sponsored by Lallemand Inc., went to Amanda Stewart, a student of Christian Butzke at Purdue University; and the award for the best paper in viticulture, sponsored by the National Grape Cooperative, was given to Sarah Bowman, a student of Bradley Taylor at Southern Illinois University.

At the annual business meeting on July 18, the results of elections for the coming year were announced. Jodi Creasap Gee of Cornell University becomes chairperson-elect. Elected to the board of directors were Paul Jenkins of Michigan State University, Jim Wilwerth of Brock University, Brent Trela from Texas Tech University, and Eric Stafne of Mississippi State University.

Fritz Westover of Texas AgriLife Extension was installed as the Eastern Section’s chairperson for the 2012-13 year. Hans Walter-Peterson of Cornell Cooperative Extension remains on the board as past chairperson.

The next Eastern Section meeting will be held in North Carolina in July 2013 at a location to be announced.

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