April is time to take time to sip some Michigan wine

April in Michigan usually, but not always, means that the worst of winter’s wrath is behind us and we can officially begin to look forward to warm sunny days without feeling that we’re jinxing ourselves.
April also means we can take a few weeks to celebrate Michigan's booming wine industry since Gov. Rick Snyder has declared the first month of spring to be Wine Month in Michigan.

Why? Because, today the Michigan wine and spirits industry supports more than 23,000 direct jobs, more than 6,600 supplier and service provider jobs related to the industry, and a total of 41,684 jobs statewide. Wine and spirits wholesalers alone directly employ 1,400 workers in Michigan. 
For the industry, that adds up to a total economic impact of $4.7 billion, a direct economic impact of $1.8 billion, and more than $579 million in wages to Michigan-based workers each year. Plus the wine and spirits industry in Michigan generates more than $350 million in business taxes for state government. That's according to an economic analysis prepared by New York-based John Dunham & Associates for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.
The now 2-year-old event is an opportunity for all 101 wineries across Michigan to showcase their products and give individual consumers, wine retailers and restaurants a chance to sample and experience everything the Michigan wine industry has to offer.
"The reason we got together and picked April is, everyone is releasing their white wines now," says Dave Braganini, president of St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw. "But if everything works out properly, everyone has their new vintage bottles ready and they want to show them off. It’s kind of a tradition."
Throughout the month there will be tastings, dinners, bottle releases, and informative talks related to Michigan Wines and the local folks who produce them.
One of the most highly anticipated is the St. Julian Masquerade Wine Maker’s Dinner, taking place Saturday, April 13 in Paw Paw.
The event will be like a mini Mardi Gras right here in Southwest Michigan, featuring food, wine, beads and masks. It will be catered by Martell’s of Kalamazoo and will feature the debut of four new vintages by St. Julian.
"Three of them are white wines from the 2012 vintage," Braganini says. "One will be a brand new wine that we have never made before--Albarino. It’s a Spanish grape, it’s like the Spanish version of Pinot Grigio or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It’s that kind of style: dry, white, and clean."
St. Julian will also offer its 2012 Riesling, the 2011 Syrah, and a 2012 Pinot Gris.
"We make a Pinot Grigio and a Pinot Gris. Pinot Gregio is an Italian Style wine and the Gris is an Alsatian style. It's barrel fermented," Braganini says.
Events such as the $75 per person Masquerade dinner help showcase new wines to already loyal customers.

"I think it really helps," Braganini says. "I do tastings over in the Detroit area sometimes and people are still amazed that the wine is made in Michigan, we’ve been here 92 years." 

But other events like in-store tastings and lectures are doing even more to drive the industry forward and help to build the Michigan wine brand.
"Years ago there were only a half dozen wineries in Michigan," Braganini says. "It was kind of a novelty, but now there are over 100. It’s an industry. Nobody goes into this business to make mediocre wine. Everyone wants to make the best wine possible. The new guys that are starting out, they are making some very, very good wines. It’s a joy to welcome them into the fold."
One winery that has recently opened in Southwest Michigan, Lawton Ridge, began selling its product in 2008, has been making a high-quality wine for five years, and is happy to show it off at several tastings throughout the month.
"It’s an opportunity to get our line out to more stores and restaurants, and to their customers," says Crick Holton, co-owner of Lawton Ridge.
One of the stops Lawton Ridge will be making will be at Kalamazoo’s Food Dance on Saturday, April 20. There it will pour samples from several of its bottles.
That same night, Food Dance will also be offering $20 off all Michigan bottles from its market and be serving Michigan wine flights in house.
"That’s part of why we do it, to increase awareness. It also helps the sales in the stores where we do them, it helps to increase awareness of Michigan as an emerging wine region, to increase awareness that we are making quality wines," Holton says.

Jeremy Martin is a freelance writer. A graduate of Western Michigan University, he lives in Portage with his wife. Follow him @secondwavebeer on Twitter.
Up Coming Local Wine Month Events
• What: Masquerade Wine Maker’s Dinner -- St. Julian Winery will once again celebrate spring at its Winemaker's dinner which features five courses prepared by Martell's restaurant. Each course will be paired with special, hand-selected wines by winemaker Nancie Oxley. Seating is limited. $75 per person.
When: April 13
Where: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Location: St. Julian Winery, 716 Kalamazoo Street, Paw Paw
Contact: http://www.stjulian.com, 1-800-732-6002 for reservations
Cost: $75/ person
St. Julian will also be offering 20 percent off all cases of wine April 26-28. members of the "wine club" may take advantage of 25 percent off cases.
• What: Lawton Ridge Wine Tasting -- Event includes tasting and meet and greet with Lawton Ridge Winery. Food Dance will also be offering Michigan Wine flights featuring glasses from across the state, and all bottles of Michigan wines will be 10% off in the Food Dance Market.
Where: Food Dance,401 E Michigan Ave #100  Kalamazoo 
When: April 20, 4-6 p.m.
Contact: fooddance.net, lawtonridgewinery.com
• What: Lawton Ridge ‘Wanderings’ -- In honor of Michigan Wine month, Lawton Ridge will be taking its wines on the road for several on site tastings around South West Michigan.
April 11th
4-6 p.m. Harding's Woodbridge
3750 W Centre Ave, Portage 
April 12th
4-6 p.m. Bacchus
3112 Oakland Dr, Kalamazoo 
April 19th
4-6 p.m .Kalamazoo Cheese Lady
7035 W Q Ave, Kalamazoo 
• What: Release of the 2013 Michigan Wine Magazine -- The magazine acts as a guide for touring Michigan’s 101 wineries. The new edition is full of the latest news and information on Michigan’s wines and wineries--including 11 new wineries--plus maps, activities and events.
Where: State-wide
Please visit michiganwines.com for a full list of events taking place across the state.

Photos courtesy of St. Julian Winery.
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