What is in this article?:
- Michigan morphs into wine mecca
- Educating future viticulturists
- Michigan is ranked as the nation’s fourth-largest grape producer with a burgeoning industry of wine-grape growers and vineyards.
- The Michigan wine industry has grown from less than 10 to 86 wineries, producing more than 1 million gallons of wine each year; sees 800,000 visitors annually; and contributes $300 million to Michigan’s economy each year.
Educating future viticulturists
Another way Sabbatini and MSU are helping fuel the industry’s growth is by educating future viticulturists. Through the horticulture department and MSU Extension, students gain classroom and field experience in the literal sense. A typical day during the fall harvest or the winter pruning involves driving to MSU’s vineyards in southwest or northwest Michigan – rain, snow or sun – and spending the day snipping clusters of grapes or trimming vines, respectively.
The work isn’t over when the bell rings, either; it’s when the fieldwork is complete. In fact, it’s these days that demonstrate students’ commitment to viticulture, Sabbatini said.
“There’s a romantic notion about being a wine connoisseur that draws some people to viticulture,” he said. “So I invite them to work the harvest, which can be 12-hour days. If they come after the first day, then I know that they are serious, and they want to be part of the program.”
Working outdoors and helping cultivate an important crop for his home state is what drew Jake Emling, an undergraduate student from Gladstone, to the program. His studies have allowed him to intern at Old Mission Peninsula’s Chateau Chantal as well as travel to southern France to learn more about plant physiology.
“I’ve always wanted to work in plant science, but I didn’t want to spend the majority of my time in a lab and sitting at a bench,” he said. “Growing up in the U.P., I was always outside. I got bitten by the wine bug at Michigan State, and the viticulture program allows me to exercise my science background but work hard outside.”
To learn more about MSU’s viticulture program, visit www.hrt.msu.edu/viticulture. To learn more about Michigan’s wine industry, visit the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council at www.michiganwines.com.
Sabbatini’s work is supported by MSU AgBioResearch.