Partnership rescues Michigan wine competition, reception

Greg Tasker
Special to The Detroit News
A flight of rosé wines awaits judges, such as Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon, who sorts through Michigan wines during the annual Michigan wine competition held at MSU's Kellogg Center in 2018.

Two of the Michigan wine industry’s most important annual events, a wine competition and a public reception celebrating the medal winners, will continue this year and beyond, thanks to a new partnership that includes Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business, the Michigan Wine Collaborative and others.

The future of both events was in jeopardy because of recent changes to the primary sponsor, the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, which was formed three decades ago to promote the state’s wine and wine-grape growing industries. The panel was reconfigured last year to become the Michigan Craft Beverage Council, charged with a broader role of also supporting the state’s exploding craft beer, spirits and hard cider industries.

“This is very good news for the industry,” said David Albert, owner of Boathouse Vineyards in Lake Leelanau, who has entered the competition every year since his tasting room opened in 2012. He won two gold medals last year, one for his 2017 Unoaked Chardonnay and the other for his 2016 Boathouse Red, a blend of cabernet franc, merlot and syrah.

“The Michigan Wine Competition is a good competition. I usually pick four competitions a year and this is always one of them. You’re getting evaluated from sommeliers and people in the industry. When you can say you won a gold medal, that means something. It’s great exposure and customers notice it in the tasting room.”

Both events have been instrumental in the industry’s growth, providing much-needed promotion in its early days and giving credence to the state’s growing roster of vintners. The competition’s panel of judges includes experts from around the world.

The other event partners are the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing, where the competition and public reception will continue to be held.

This year marks the 42 annual wine competition. Last year, 55 of the state’s 145 wineries entered 413 wines into the competition, open only to wine produced from Michigan grapes and fruit. Dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded in various categories, ranging from dry red and dry white to dessert and sparkling wines.

The Gold Medal Reception emerged some years after the competition began, organized with help from the Kellogg Center, where it’s been held ever since. About 300 people attend the reception annually.

The new partnership will expand the scope of what the competition represents. It also will be used as a vehicle for hands-on training for future hospitality professionals.

About 10-15 students from MSU’s School of Hospitality Business will help with the planning, implementation and other aspects of the events, including possibly pouring wine for judges and for reception guests, said Carl Borchgrevink, the school’s director. The Kellogg Center will continue to assist with both events.

“We’re excited about this,” he said. “Students will learn while they’re doing. Wine is important in the future of our students. Some of them will work with wine in the hospitality business and some will go to work at wineries or in tasting rooms. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, said Dave Miller, president of the Michigan Wine Collaborative and owner of White Pine Winery in St. Joseph.

“The wine industry is more than just production of wine, and as the industry continues to grow, we will need people with strong backgrounds in many different fields of study,” he said. “We are proud to assist in cultivating the next generation of Michigan wine enthusiasts.”

Judging in the Michigan Wine Competition will be held July 30. The Gold Medal Reception will be held Aug. 8.