Lake Michigan College pairs with vintners to create Great Lakes Wine Institute

Southwest Michigan has become one of the most prolific wine-producing regions in the country, an industry that brings in $300 million annually to the state's economy.

That's why Lake Michigan College has launched the Great Lake Wine Institute, the first commercial teaching winery in the Midwest.

Beginning in the fall of 2015, students can enroll to earn an Associate of Applied Science in  Enology and Viticulture -- the science of winemaking and the production and study of grapes. The school plans to recruit 15 students for its first class. (More information can be found here.)

Lake Michigan College has constructed a small, commercially viable teaching winery in the Mendel Center for Arts and Technology. A new facility that will have a larger production capacity and include an on-site vineyard and tasting room is in the planning stages.

Students will study chemistry and microbiology in existing science labs on campus. They also will experience hands-on winemaking experience at both the college’s winery and through participation in a second fall harvest with one of the area’s local wineries.

Students will learn about vineyard establishment, soils, plant physiology, canopy management, and vineyard diseases and insects in vineyards owned by Michigan State University, a partner in the program.

The college created the program in response to a rapidly-growing regional wine industry and a demand for skilled professionals to support it. The Round Barn is one of eight area wineries advising in the development of the college’s program.

"With over 35 years in the local wine industry we were honored to be involved with the development of the new teaching winery at Lake Michigan College," says Christian Moersch, owner and partner of Round Barn Winery, Distillery and Brewery.

"With an annual growth rate of 10 to 15 percent and the addition of several wineries over the last decade, it has become harder to find qualified candidates to fill the positions required to make great wine," Moersch continues. "The best thing about this program is that we can hire people who are familiar with the challenges our industry faces locally rather than hiring someone from out of state who is not familiar with our climate, varieties, and terroir."

Michigan has doubled its vineyard area over the past 10 years, and is now the fourth largest grape-growing state in the nation. With 107 commercial wineries, Michigan ranks 13th in wine production, using primarily Michigan-grown grapes, and the industry draws more than 2 million tourism visitors annually.

Great Lakes Wine Institute’s new Director Michael Moyer decided to move from his home in Walla Walla, Wash. to work in the new program.

Moyer previously worked with Figgins Family Wine Estates in Washington where he crafted a variety of wines for the Leonetti label as well as Doubleback, Figgins, and Toil Oregon. He also worked with the California brands, Etude and Peter Michael Winery.

He brings academic experience from Walla Walla, where he was instrumental in designing and developing its community college’s wine science program. He also holds a Master of Science in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California, Davis, a globally-influential program with a 130-year history.

"What attracted me to this region is that it has all the ingredients for serious winemaking," says Moyer. "It has a great climate, well-drained soils, a huge population base, and wineries that are already creating some fabulous wines. People in the wine industry who are living in other parts of the country don’t think about Michigan wines. But the wines made here can have the balance of fruit, structure, and alcohol much more common to the old world."

Source: Candice Elders, Lake Michigan College