Changes in Michigan Wine Industry Promotion

New focus of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council spurs innovation

by Linda Jones McKee

The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council had been tasked with supporting the state's wineries and vineyards such as this one near Traverse City, Mich., owned by Chateau Chantal, but has recently expanded its mission to include craft cider, beer and spirits as the Michigan Craft Beverage Council.

Lansing, Mich.—It’s no secret that the craft beverage industry has been booming in the last 10 years. While the number of small and medium-sized wineries has increased across the country, the craft cider, beer and distilled spirits operations have also become significant players in the beverage alcohol industry.

In Michigan, the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council (MGWIC) had been a source of research funding, education and promotion of the wine industry since the council was established by the Michigan legislature in 1985. As a part of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the council has run the annual Michigan Wine Competition, organized the annual Michigan Wine Conference, published an industry newsletter and Michigan Wine Country magazine and held numerous promotional events.

However, this spring the Michigan House and Senate passed bills changing the name of the MGWIC to the Michigan Craft Beverage Council (MCBC) and Gov. Rick Snyder signed the changes into law on May 23.

Like the MGWIC, the newly formed MCBC will be located in the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) as of Oct. 1. The chair of the new council will be Gordon Wenk, the director of MDARD, who will be a non-voting member. Gov. Snyder will appoint a 10-member council that will include:

two winemakers,
a winemaker that primarily produces cider,
a small distiller,
a distiller that manufactures more than 60,000 gallons of spirits per year,
a large brewer,
a microbrewer or brew pub license-holder,
a restaurant representative who carries Michigan craft beverages, and
a retail representative who sells Michigan craft beverage.

As was the case with the MGWIC, the new council will be funded through non-retail, non-wholesale liquor license fees. Those fees include winery, brewery and distillery licenses, while most of the revenue comes from licenses to out-of-state companies such as Anheuser Busch and E. & J. Gallo to permit them to sell their products within Michigan.

The annual budget for the MCBC will continue to be about $580,000, and the council will award grants for research to help in the growing of the products that go into the craft beverages such as grapes, apples, hops, and barley. Other projects will include market surveys and analysis, and programs to “encourage the agricultural elements related to Michigan’s craft beverage industries.” After administrative expenses, salaries and benefits are paid, there will probably not be much left to pay for marketing and promotion of any of the craft beverages.

According to Karel Bush, executive director of the MGWIC, while she knows that Wenk, who is the current chair of the MGWIC, will continue as the chair of the Craft Beverage Council, Gov. Snyder has yet to announce the names of the new board members. “The first thing the board needs to do is set priorities, look at big picture things and then figure out how to serve the craft beverage industries. They have a lot of work to do in a short length of time, and need to make decisions, so that a lot of good can come of this.”

The Michigan Wine Collaborative
The Michigan wine industry was not surprised that the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council was renamed with a broader focus than only on wine. According to Dave Miller, owner and winemaker at White Pine Winery in St. Joseph, Mich., and assistant professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University, it was apparent that it was only a matter of time before the craft beer and spirits producers would want the MGWIC to represent those industries as well as wine, since the council was funded in part by their license fees.

Miller and Lee Lutes, head winemaker at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, Mich., both served on the research committee of the MGWIC. The two decided that in order for the wine industry to be prepared for an inevitable change in structure at the council, they would establish a non-profit organization to speak and work for the wine industry. The Michigan Wine Collaborative (MWC) was officially formed in 2016 “to give a unified voice to the needs of wineries and associated grape growers at the state and local level.”

The Wine Collaborative now has a board of directors with 14 members from all regions across the state. Miller is president; Lutes is treasurer; Matt Moersch, partner, winemaker and distiller at Round Barn Winery, Distillery and Brewery in Baroda is vice president; and Brian Lesperance, vice president, operations and winemaking at Fenn Valley Vineyards in Fennville, is secretary.

An initial step was to apply for and receive a specialty crops grant from the USDA to help the organization grow its membership. Recently the MWC established an ad hoc committee to look at the Michigan Wine Competition and the various events previously run by the MGWIC to determine how those activities could be made profitable, “or at least to pay for themselves,” Miller commented. The group may apply for another USDA specialty crop grant that might allow them to get someone to run their organization, and they are considering the steps that would be necessary to get a self-assessment on wine grape growers to provide the funds for projects like the state wine competition and other promotional activities.

“We’re making a transition,” Miller said. “It will take some time, but the upside is that we have good models in New York, Oregon, Washington. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”


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