Michigan Wines Endure Polar Vortex? | 6 Michigan Wine Trails

We asked hardy farmers at Michigan wineries, “How do Michigan wines survive the Polar Vortex?” Here’s what we found.

You’ll also find descriptions of Michigan wine trails and maps so you can visit and taste the best wines from Michigan right now.

How do Michigan Wineries Survive the Polar Vortex?

fluffy snow lays on top of brown vine leaves could be found along Michigan Wine Trails in the winter
Hybrid wine grape vines are one way Michigan wineries endure the Polar Vortex | Photo by Dario Brönnimann on Unsplash

“After the Polar Vortex of 2015, we lost our first harvest, which was heartbreaking,” laments McKenzie Gallagher, who owns Rove Estate winery with her husband Creighton, a fifth-generation farmer. “Since then, we designed a v-plow to go in and insulate the vines with snow.” The hardy inventiveness illustrates the resilience of Michigan farmers who protect wine grape vines from sporadic sub-zero climatic phenomenons.

“We named one of our wines, Polar Vortex, after that horrific weather event,” adds Kyler Totzke, one of the St Julian Winery winemakers. The dessert wine was so popular that it is now hard to get. St Julian Winery, the largest in the state, grows its own grapes and buys from other growers in the state, which it had to do after one polar vortex.

148 commercial Michigan wineries produce over 2.85M gallons/year

You might be surprised to learn that frigid Upper Midwest climates can yield wine grapes and that winemakers are creating delicious wines even during polar vortex years. However, there are actually 148 commercial Michigan wineries, which produce over 2.85 million gallons per year. That ranks Michigan #6 in wine production nationwide, polar vortex and all! (See the table below.) Further, Michigan’s wine industry contributes $4.9 Billion to the state’s economy, making it one of the top ten states in the nation where wine has a significant fiscal impact.

Those figures could be surprising until you look at a world map to view the wine belts or latitudes where wine grapes grow best. The chart that you can see below shows that Michigan fits squarely between the 30-degrees and 50-degrees latitude borders of the wine belt in the northern hemisphere.

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map of the world with two "wine belts" shown as two grayed areas between the 30 and 50 degree latitudes in both north and south hemisphere - Michigan Wine Trails are inside the shaded area in the north
Michigan and the World ‘Wine Belt’ Map

The map above also illustrates the large bodies of water that surround Michigan. The lakes create a moderating effect that helps Michigan wineries survive the Polar Vortex. The “lake effect” moderates temperatures and can lengthen the growing season. The warmth from the large bodies of water helps keep the vine roots warm during cold weather events. In the spring, winds off the lake help delay bud burst until after frosts have passed.

The Great Lakes are temperature moderators

“Lake Michigan is a smaller version of what California has with the Pacific Ocean—the lake and the ocean are both temperature moderators,” reveals Apollo Braganini, Vice President of Sales at St. Julian Winery. Apollo is part of the fourth generation of family operators at the winery, established in 1921.

St. Julian Winery and Distillery are committed to using Lake Michigan Shore AVA fruit, but they may have to go north looking for Michigan grapes during Polar Vortex years. North? Take a look at the Lake Michigan Shore AVA in relation to other Michigan AVAs below:

Michigan Wine Map and Michigan AVAs

Map of Michigan with 5 shaded sections, all bordering Lake Michigan, depicting the Michigan wine avas
Michigan Wine Map of Michigan AVAs provided by Michigan Wine Collaborative

Michigan has five AVAs or American Viticultural Areas. The Michigan wine map above shows the location of each Michigan AVA:

  1. Fennville
  2. Leelanau Peninsula
  3. Lake Michigan Shore
  4. Old Mission Peninsula, and
  5. Tip of the Mitt

Each of the five areas is located close to Lake Michigan, and Michigan producers grow almost all wine grapes within 25 miles/40 km of the lake. Remember what we said earlier about “lake effects” moderating temperatures?

Experience Michigan wine tasting just about anywhere in the state

But don’t let the Michigan wine map lead you to believe that Michigan vineyards are located only in those AVAs. In fact, just about anywhere you go in the state, you can find a vineyard or winery to experience Michigan wine tasting. Just take a look at the following Michigan vineyards and wineries map.

Michigan Wine Map of Wineries and Vineyards

Map of Michigan showing locations of numerous Michigan wineries and vineyards
Map of Michigan Wineries | Map courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Remember that I said you could find a Michigan winery in just about any place you travel in Michigan? That is so true that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources put together a Michigan wine map that shows wineries and vineyards in proximity to hiking trails and campgrounds. The MI DNR is where I procured the Michigan wineries map above. It shows that a winery could be just a Petoskey stone’s throw away from where you are when you visit Michigan.

So then, many of you know that I love combining hiking and wine—just take a look at my pilgrimage stories. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is after my heart by providing an interactive map to help plan our wine adventures in Michigan’s great outdoors.

Michigan wine tastings: What to expect

Michigan wineries come in all sizes and kinds. From estate production to urban wineries, from old to new from big to small, Michigan has ‘em all! And each Michigan wine tasting offers a unique experience.

By the way, most Michigan grape farms are small, and that’s what you’ll find as you explore Michigan Wine Trails. 75% of the 252 wine grape producing farms are 1-9 acres in size, according to a 2018 study sponsored in part by the Michigan Wine Collaborative. The report also reveals that farmers are increasing their plantings with 70% vinifera and 30% hybrid grapes.

The most-planted hybrid varietals are Chambourcin, Foch, Marquette, Seyval, Traminette, Vidal and Vignoles, all cold climate varietals, of course. I was excited to see Marquette on the list because the University of Minnesota—my alma mater— developed it, and I’ve written about the cold climate varietal. 

Michigan Wine Trails Make Michigan Wine Tasting Fun & Easy

6 wine glasses held by women's hands toast Michigan Wine Trails
Sip your way into “new normal” on Michigan Wine Trails | Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

A great way to experience Michigan wine country—and really, wine country anywhere—is to seek out a wine trail. Fortunately for you, there are six Michigan wine trails, which include:

Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail

Michigan’s first wine trail was established in 1983…unofficially in Leelanau County.

This trail is way up north, in the northwest of the mitten. You’ll find McKenzie and Creighton Gallagher at Rove Estate winery on this trail, which boasts a total of 27 wineries.

Visitors exploring the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail often make Traverse City their home base.

Don’t miss Rove Estate when tasting wine at Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. Just across the bay is…

Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail

Also adjacent to Traverse City, you can visit ten wineries—see why I recommend taking two days for each wine trail? “The thin peninsula is surrounded by water, so it’s warmer and maintains higher temperature longer over there,” says McKenzie of her neighboring vineyards. “They have crazy microclimates even in the personal plots.” Taste award-winning wines and savor small bites at Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail.

Glen Arbor Village Wine Trail

Less than 30 miles west of Traverse City is Glen Arbor near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Three wineries make up this walkable Michigan wine trail, which is close to the beach, of course! Glen Arbor Village Wine Trail is a great way to get your social distance on and be outdoors.

Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail

Straight down the Lake Michigan coast is Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail with 15 Michigan wineries, including St. Julian Winery and Distillery that I mentioned previously. Although I failed to say that they are Michigan’s longest-running wine operation. Beachfront towns, sunsets and dunes are part of the mystique of this Michigan wine trail. The area holds 90% of Michigan’s vineyards and is an easy drive from Chicago, Detroit, Illinois and Indiana. 

Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail

Five Michigan wineries make up the SE Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail that would be fun to explore during your visit to Lansing, Ann Arbor, or Detroit. Sip your way into a “new normal” with outdoor seating, carry out and food at some of the wineries – check individual wineries for opening times and services during COVID.

Thumbs Up Wine Trail

As its name indicates, this Michigan wine trail weaves its way through the thumb section of the Michigan mitten.  You’ll enjoy wine tastings at a dozen wineries and relish the clean air of the countryside during your Thumbs Up Wine Trail excursion.

So Polar Vortex, or no, Michigan continues to produce award-winning wines. It’s time you mask up and visit the great state.

For more information about Michigan wine tasting visit Michigan Wine Collaborative.

Ready to book accommodation for your Michigan wine vacation? Check out dates for your stay on the Michigan map below:

As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with a bottle of wine for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

Further, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading.

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