Michigan Wineries Preparing for Tomorrow through Environmental Stewardship

By Jenelle Jagmin, Promotion Specialist, Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council

Grape & Wine Industry Council member, stands outside Round Barn WineryWhen Matt Moersch was a young boy, he and his older brother Chris spent countless hours playing among the grapevines of their parents’ vineyard. Today, Matt and Chris can still be found strolling those same grapevines, but now they do it with a much more deliberate purpose. As second generation winemakers of Round Barn Winery in southwest Michigan, the brothers understand how environmental stewardship can help ensure that their winery thrives for many more generations.

Just as important as self-preservation, though, is their unwavering responsibility to protect the land that gives them so much. Matt, who recently became one of the newest members of the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council, said, “As farmers, we should all want to be good stewards of the land and explore sustainable farming practices.”

This is a very popular sentiment among Michigan’s winemakers.

Like Matt, many of the state’s winemakers proudly identify themselves as farmers—earning their living from the land while enduring the state’s dramatic weather, all with persistent optimism. Despite suffering drastic weather-related fruit losses for the past two years, environmental stewardship has not become an afterthought. Michigan is making world class wines, but they continue to do it in a way that helps protect the state’s natural resources.

Vineyards at Chateau Grand TraverseChateau Grand Traverse (CGT), located on Old Mission Peninsula, employs many sustainable practices in its winemaking, including the use of integrated pest management, composting, and bird habitat protection. In 2016, CGT released its Great Outdoors Series, a collection of its three most popular wine styles. Through this unique project, approximately 50 percent of net profits from the series will be donated to the Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help support improvements in recycling, natural playgrounds, or tree replacement (the public can vote on which project will be supported). The first round of the project ended with a $10,000 gift to help fund tree planting across the state. Round two of the program is currently underway. Voting can be done here .

Mari Vineyards, another winery on Old Mission Peninsula, employs sustainability in another way. Observing the grandeur of Mari Vineyards, one would never guess that its energy output is nearly carbon neutral. The underground wine caves keep wine at the correct temperature and humidity, and much of the woodwork inside was sustainably claimed and milled as a side hobby of the winery’s founder, Marty Lagina. The giant stone fireplaces inside the tasting room are lined with masses of bedrock that were displaced by the wind turbine, which helps power the winery.

In addition, Mari, after being struck by the emerald ash borer, harvested all the trees on the property. Using a high efficiency wood burning heater, they have enough fuel to heat the tasting room for the next seven years.

One of the ways Michigan winemakers are demonstrating their commitment to environmental stewardship is by participating in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). MAEAP is a voluntary, proactive program designed by a coalition of farmers, agricultural commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and conservation and environmental groups to reduce producers' legal and environmental risks. It teaches effective land stewardship practices that comply with state and federal regulations and it shows producers how to identify and prevent agricultural pollution risks on their farms.

Mari Vineyards on Old Mission PeninsulaThe program encompasses three systems designed to help producers evaluate the environmental risks of their operation. Each system—livestock, farmstead and cropping—examines a different aspect of a farm, as each has a different environmental impact. Through each phase, producers develop and implement economically feasible, effective, and environmentally sound pollution prevention practices. MAEAP farms balance efficient production with sound environmental practices, have emergency preparedness plans, and are committed to protecting the Great Lakes. 

Round Barn Winery, like Chateau Grand Traverse, has been MAEAP verified since 2011, and Matt Moersch feels strongly about the program. “MAEAP is a wonderful tool for Michigan farmers who wish to be recognized for being good stewards of the land. The fact that it is a free program is amazing.”

Currently, 63 Michigan wine grape vineyards (more than 50 percent) have become MAEAP verified. This speaks volumes to the environmental commitments of the industry. And if you visit Michigan wine country, it’s easy to understand what is so worth protecting.